Teledermatology is a process that involves taking photos of skin lesions, moles or rashes which are sent to or seen by a specialist for assessment and diagnosis. It enables assessment without the patient needing to be present, enabling a very rapid fast-track diagnosis of skin conditions. Services are in operation across the East of England to support cancer and routine referrals.
Why is there a need for teledermatology?
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Dermatology services receive more urgent referrals for suspected cancer than any other specialty. When cases are diagnosed they also require regular reviews, appointments that are in addition to the huge number of outpatient appointments being dealt with by dermatology departments. The high pressure on dermatology departments has meant that the review appointments for sometimes painful and debilitating inflammatory conditions are delayed, or clinics are overbooked. The need for change in delivery of dermatology outpatient services is clear.
The NHS Teledermatology Roadmap
According to the NHS Teledermatology Roadmap; existing models of teledermatology triage services suggest a significant opportunity for managing demand for dermatology diagnosis, and in doing so, releasing capacity for better quality and more timely treatment for those who need it.
A fourteen-year review of a UK teledermatology service found that 50% of cases were discharged to the GP with advice and 4% booked directly for surgery ('A 14 year review of a UK teledermatology service: experience of over 40,000 teleconsultations' Mehrtens, Shall, Halpern Clin Exp Dermatol 2019 44(8): 874-881). Pilot studies on teledermatology also suggested a significant number of cases could be managed without a face to face consultation.
During increased demand
The Third Phase of NHS Response To Covid-19 states that clinicians should consider avoiding asking patients to attend physical outpatient appointments where a clinically-appropriate and accessible alternative exists. Teledermatology triage provides that alternative for dermatology outpatient services and by taking advantage of available technologies can also improve productivity while providing the same level of access to high quality care, diagnostics and treatments.