Teledermatology is a branch of telemedicine, which is a general term covering a wide range of internet and technology-based forms of delivering health care.
The main advantages of teledermatology relate to the ability of specialist dermatologists to provide diagnosis and treatment online to people who have skin conditions, either as a primary visit or as a follow-up to a face-to-face consultation.
Benefits of Teledermatology
People can benefit from this type of medical treatment in different ways. Those who live in rural areas can now access medical care in ways that they would not have been able to previously. Patients who live in urban areas often find it more convenient to interact with their specialist online, rather than arrange a face-to-face meeting. Someone who has a physical disability may find it easier to use teledermatology because of the physical constraints they face in terms of getting to see their GP or consultant.
In addition, many people have problems remembering questions they want to ask their doctor, or problems remembering what the doctor said to them. Using teledermatology can allow them to have a record of both their questions and answers. And certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, require continual monitoring over several weeks or months, in order to assess if the treatment being used is appropriate or not.
Teledermatology tends to work in two main ways: video conferencing and a system known as 'store and forward'.
Video conferencing, which can take a bit of organising, is simply where each of the participants (who would normally be the patient, the patient's GP and the dermatologist) can all link up and talk to each other through a video call. This allows them all to meet and talk in real time in a way that would otherwise not be possible.
Store and Forward
Store and forward, or 'Tele-Derm', is an online resource, run by three Australian doctors and funded by the Department of Health, Rural Health Outreach Fund. It offers a system whereby rural doctors can access specialist medical and dermatology advice, guidance and clinical guidelines for treatment with regard to specific and individual cases. Doctors can upload digital images of patients' skin conditions and skin cancers and receive detailed feedback from a qualified dermatologist within 48 hours.
With the advent of e-health becoming more mainstream, the growth of dermatologists offering different types of services online has been rapid and is likely to grow significantly in the near future. Online dermatologists can already participate in the store and forward system described above and can collaborate with other clinicians and patients in a variety of other ways as well. Online dermatology is in many ways a very natural extension of this type of diagnosis and treatment.
Perhaps the most valuable way an online dermatologist can help other clinicians is through education. There are many ways to share experience through e-health and training modules in the Tele-Derm system. E-learning allows for the training of GPs, nurses and other clinicians involved in the treatment of skin conditions and skin cancers in a way that would have previously not been possible. Patients wanting to learn more about their condition are also able to benefit.