Video communication has been an asset during the pandemic in many ways, including giving safe access to medical support.
Whilst telemedicine is not new, the scale of use in recent times is. The practical benefits are relatively obvious, immediate assistance, no need to travel, no direct contact but are patients happy with the option.
A fair amount of research has gone into assessing patient reaction, including several papers published in early 2021. They are centred on surveying teledermatology users and offered a quite consistent outcome.
George Washington University carried out an online poll to gauge reaction and reasons for using the service. 47% of patients had an in clinic appointments cancelled due to Covid-19 and 18% were new patients.
People reported that time efficiency, not requiring transport and maintaining social distancing were key benefits. There were odd concerns, the lack of physical touch and degree of assessment but these were minimal.
Less than 10% of patients stated they were unlikely to take part in another teledermatology appointment. Of equal importance, just 7% would not recommend a telemedicine appointment to friends, or family.
Reasons for the appointments crossed the dermatological remit, including new rashes, eczema and psoriasis. There were also a wide range of other concerns, including a need to assess potential skin cancers.
Other studies in western countries yielded quite similar results, as did a survey of patients in India. Around 90% found their consultation easy to follow and of significant benefit, with a lack of income, or transport during the pandemic.
The general view is that teledermatology represents an effective, safe approach to care. One that has naturally thrived during the coronavirus pandemic, although this may not be the end of the story.
Looking To The Future
Collaboration between a dermatology consultant and IT specialist saw a teledermatology service created in Ireland, 2 years before the pandemic. In part a reaction to extended waiting times, which are quite common in the country.
This focused on private practice initially but is now working with hospitals to broaden the scope. The focus of their approach is improving technical quality, which won them gold at the 2020 Irish Healthcare Awards.
Developing technology and improved online speed are factors in the growth of telemedicine. This can present challenges, in terms of establishing the right patient doctor relationship, yet at least for initial diagnosis, may be here to stay.
A study of private health care providers found a 4000% increase in telemedicine claims, from March 2019 to March 2020. One which may not entirely recede in a post pandemic world, when convenience is a key factor.
There are also health advantages, with many dermatological conditions, not least skin cancer, benefiting from early diagnosis. If teledermatology makes this more likely, then our patients health has been better protected.