Teledermatology is the skin branch of telemedicine, which is the use of telecommunication technology to relay audio, visual, and data information. Teledermatology is becoming a more common means of delivering dermatologic health care.
The two modalities for teledermatology are store-and-forward and live-interactive. Store-and-forward is the sending (or forwarding) of digital images and patient information to a distant site provider; or the sending of information back to the patient. Live-interactive is the patient sending images or interacting live directly with the dermatologist.1
Pros of teledermatology
Convenience: Teledermatology allows easier and quicker access to a healthcare specialist. Teledermatology allows for a patient to access a healthcare professional who can quickly assess symptoms, answer questions a patient might have and determine a treatment pathway.
Time savings: Teledermatology can help reduce the wait time to see a specialist. Often times there can be a quicker turnaround for a diagnosis and in turn a recommendation for how to manage the skin condition.
Improve access: Teledermatology can provide access to a dermatologist that may not be available to a patient in their local community. When used in conjunction with in-person office visits, teledermatology helps ensure that more patients, regardless of where they live, can have access to the skin specialists they need.
Manage costs: Teledermatology can help manage costs as patients may not have to travel as far for their appointment. Using teledermatology may also help with cost savings since a patient does not have to take time off from work to attend an appointment.2
Cons of teledermatology
May be good for some conditions, but not others: While telemedicine has many benefits, it may not be suitable for evaluating all skin conditions. Some conditions that require a full body examinition may be better suited for an in-person visit.2
Electronic glitches: Since teledermatology depends so much on technology, there are opportunities for that technology to fail. Barriers to successful teledermatology can be loss of power or bad weather which can interrupt connections, additionally outdated software may lead to poor image quality which can impact a diagnosis.
Not offered everywhere: Not all medical providers or healthcare systems and offices are ready to roll our telemedicine (including teledermatology), therefore patients who may want to utilize this mode, may not be able to.
Patient satisfaction: While telemedicine may be convenient and exciting, for some people they may still have a preference for an in-person consultation, so teledermatology may not work for all patients. For patients who struggle with technology, they may find teledermatology overwhelming and frustrating which will impact their overall experience with the provider.
Warshaw E, Greer N, Hillman Y, et al. Teledermatology for Diagnosis and Management of Skin Conditions: A Systematic Review of the Evidence [Internet]. Washington (DC): Department of Veterans Affairs (US); 2010 Jan. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK49157/
Armstrong AW, Kwong MW, Ledo L, Nesbitt TS, Shewry SL. Practice Models and Challenges in Teledermatology: A Study of Collective Experiences from Teledermatologists. Soyer HP, ed. PLoS ONE. 2011;6(12):e28687. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028687.