Despite the benefits touted by telemedicine enthusiasts, widespread adoption of this technology has lagged in the healthcare industry. However, with the onset of COVID-19, a new era of telemedicine has begun. Almost overnight, telemedicine became more accepted by regulators, providers, insurance companies, and patients. The combination of improved video technology, patient demand, and provider acceptance has eased restrictions and pushed telemedicine to the forefront in the medical industry.
In addition, dermatopathology is following this trend. Regulations for the remote use of pathology have changed in light of COVID-19, making it possible for pathologists to work remotely and support the use of digital pathology technology for the duration of the pandemic.
With the universal adoption of video conferencing, 20 percent of all medical visits are happening via telemedicine. Here are a few reasons to consider teledermatology:
Recent surveys show that a common reason over one-third of patients may prefer telemedicine visits is saving time by avoiding the commute to a provider’s office. For instance, telemedicine can reduce the amount of time away from work or the cost and headaches of arranging childcare. Patients can be productive while waiting for the video conference instead of spending time in the waiting room. Even older patients who might have struggled with technology adoption in the past are more likely to embrace telemedicine options to avoid the increased COVID complications and mortality associated with this at-risk population.
Dermatologists can now use traditional billing codes for teledermatology visits. Teledermatology is accessible even when providers or patients may be out sick but are not debilitated. Many people who test positive for COVID are asymptomatic and would still like to keep their appointments if possible. This helps control the inevitable cancellations required for patients with cold symptoms and need to rule out COVID or flu infection before presenting in your office.
Because of increased access provided by digital dermatopathology, companies like PathologyWatch can employ a national network of dermatopathology experts. Many areas do not have access to dermatopathologists and often rely on expensive locum tenens to provide specialty or overflow care. Also, it can take several weeks to get a second opinion on a case. With a digital workflow, digital slides can be more quickly accessed for consensus diagnosis or consultation.
Teledermatology also provides people living in rural areas or mobility challenges with easy access to medical care using synchronous live video-conferencing. The CDC indicates that telemedicine “can help reduce barriers to care for people who live far away from specialists or who have transportation or mobility issues.” As one dermatologist described, “Our specialty is a visual field, and there are many skin conditions which are diagnosable from looks alone.” Dermatology lends itself well to photographic consultations by primary care providers to dermatologists.
During the COVID pandemic, the CDC established guidelines to keep healthcare workers and vulnerable patients safe during face-to-face visits. Despite these precautions, healthcare workers are still seven times more likely to develop severe COVID-19 infection than individuals performing nonessential jobs.
Teledermatology encourages a workflow that keeps providers and their staff safe from contracting diseases from patients or other staff members. Also, video conferencing can allow for the outsourcing of specific tasks, such as a scribe. This can help dermatology clinics by having a safe pool of healthcare workers that don’t have a higher risk of developing COVID-19.
Up to 48 percent of people prefer providers who offer telemedicine visits. A consumer survey revealed that 75 percent of patients who participated in virtual care were very or completely satisfied with the experience.
Meanwhile, telemedicine can level the socioeconomic playing field. Access Derm is an AAD-supported teledermatology program where volunteer dermatologists can help underserved populations who don’t have access to a dermatologist. It helps provide critical preventive care and second opinions, improving the quality of life and reducing the expense of future treatments by diagnosing skin cancer at earlier stages, for example.
When to Consider Teledermatology
Consider teledermatology options for follow-up visits that focus primarily on counseling rather than diagnosis. With these types of patients, rapport has already been established through in-person visits, and with straightforward diagnoses—like acne, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis—much of the return visit focuses on review of lab work, medication counseling, and treatment changes if patients are not responding to first-line therapies. In particular, iPLEDGE patients or their caregivers, who are required to have monthly visits for the duration of therapy, may save significant time through a teledermatology visit.
While not all visits are possible through video conferencing, making healthcare convenient can encourage more people to seek regular consultations and take better care of themselves.