Teledermatology is telemedicine’s poster child, reducing traditionally long wait times for dermatologist appointments. In 2015, the CDC reported the rate of deadly melanomas more than doubled in three decades. Heightened skin cancer awareness sent people to their primary care doctors asking about suspicious spots, marks, or moles on their skin. Typically, primary care docs referred patients to a dermatologist. In my case, after I asked about a spot on my hand that concerned me during an annual physical in 2015, I had to wait nearly three months for an appointment with a skin specialist. I considered myself lucky to see a dermatologist that quickly.
In 2017, an American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) article cited a big win when it reported a hospital reduced wait times for new patient appointments from more than a full year to an average 48 days. We wrote about 3Derm’s 3D imaging device that primary care physicians use to scan marks or moles on patients’ skin and send the images to the cloud for real-time evaluation by dermatologists. We also covered a report by the Center for Connected Health Policy on store-and-forward teledermatology in which images are held in the cloud until a dermatologist evaluates them offline.
A recent study published in JAMA Dermatology reported that teledermatology for skin cancer diagnosis in Australia costs an average of $41.47 U.S. dollars more than conventional referrals but reduces the time to clinical resolution by an average 26 days. For an extra $1.56 a day patients with benign skin conditions can stop worrying; people with malignant tissue are treated sooner. The mean elapsed time to diagnosis or excision of the suspect area was nine days with teledermoscopy referral compared to a mean time of 38 days with conventional referrals.
Teledermatology may cost a bit more at this point than conventional referrals on the front-end during diagnosis. Compared to the emotional benefits of relief with benign conditions, the cost of treatment for malignant cancer, or even the loss of life, teledermatology is still a bargain. Dermatology is an early win for telemedicine. It’s exciting to consider the potential benefits from faster and easier access to other medical specialists via telemedicine.