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Teledermatology has grown in demand, especially during the past year’s pandemic when more people are looking for safe, effective ways to see their doctors. MDLIVE Dermatology saw a three-fold increase in dermatology visits in 2020, according to the company. “People saw both the value and the convenience of teledermatology during COVID-19, and patient satisfaction was high,” Dr. Zelis says.
Online dermatology can be delivered a couple of different ways. Patients can book asynchronous visits, also known as store-and-record. “This means patients don’t need to connect live with their dermatologist,” Dr. Zelis says. “Instead, they simply are asked to provide some basic information about their health and medical history, provide a description of their condition, and upload a few photos of the affected area of their skin.”
On online doctor platforms, patients can select a dermatologist from a list of available providers who are licensed in the state where they are located. Private dermatology practices also offer asynchronous visits, and patients may already have an established relationship with a dermatologist that uses store-and-record technology to see patients virtually.
Another way online dermatology happens is through live video calls, referred to as synchronous because you “meet” with a doctor virtually. The dermatologist might ask you to send pictures and information about your skin condition in advance through a secure portal.
“Your doctor will likely have a link on their website to schedule a telemedicine appointment,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, Calif.-based SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care. “It will either link you to a calendar to choose your own appointment or to an appointment request form. Other physicians request that you call to schedule, then the office will contact you to schedule the exact time that you should log in, as well as collect any demographic, medical, insurance information and/or fees.”
During an asynchronous appointment, a dermatologist will usually get back to you with recommendations within 24 hours to three business days. “In some cases, a dermatologist may ask for more information about the patient’s condition or request additional photos,” Dr. Zelis says. “Once the doctor has obtained and reviewed all information, he or she will make a diagnosis and provide instructions on how to best care for the condition, which may include supportive measures, education and sending a prescription to the patient’s pharmacy when medically necessary.”
Synchronous dermatology visits allow patients to meet by video or phone with a doctor to discuss the skin concern. Like other telemedicine virtual visits, a live online dermatology appointment gives patients the opportunity to ask questions and get answers in real time.
Common, chronic skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema and mild-to-moderate psoriasis can be treated with teledermatology. So can rashes, minor skin abrasions, acne, poison ivy and insect bites.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), telemedicine appointments can allow dermatologists to examine skin, hair or nail problems, and to maintain treatment for chronic skin conditions. You can also have a dermatologist check suspicious spots.
Dr. Zelis adds, “Moles and skin spots can be examined virtually to determine if they might be suspicious and warrant further examination in-person.”
Aside from the aforementioned skin conditions, dermatologics may also see patients with the following concerns:
When you call or book an appointment online, AAD suggests explaining why you want to see a dermatologist. “Your explanation allows staff to figure out whether an in-office or telemedicine appointment can deliver the care you need,” the AAD explains in its segment on whether it’s safe to see a dermatologist during COVID-19.
Not all issues of the skin, hair and nails can be managed with a virtual visit. While there are many advantages to online dermatology, including convenience, cost-effectiveness and safety, there are also some downsides. For asynchronous appointments that require photographs of suspicious spots, rashes or skin conditions, the images must be clear and high-quality so an online dermatologist can make treatment recommendations. It’s not always easy to take a picture of your own skin problem.
Also, a dermatologist might need to see how a spot compares to other typical moles or markings on your body. Always, annual full-body scans should be done in-office. And dermatologists can only perform certain procedures and regimens in person, such as taking a biopsy or offering an aesthetic skin care service.
“If during an online appointment, I need to do further testing like a biopsy or a culture, or if I need a closer-up view with a magnifier that I can’t do online, we’ll schedule an office visit follow-up,” Dr. Shainhouse says.
Following are some resources where patients can find an online dermatologist or learn more about how online dermatology works.
MDLIVE offers a range of telemedicine specialties, including MDLIVE Dermatology. After you establish an account, you’ll be directed to a list of board-certified dermatologists that are licensed and practice in your state. Then, you can provide information about the skin concern, along with images, and get feedback within 24 hours to three business days. One convenient aspect of this platform is that you can use it 24/7. Plus, if a virtual visit requires an in-person follow-up, you’ll be referred to a dermatologist near you.
This dedicated online dermatologist does not require you to make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist that is licensed in your state. DermatologistOnCall provides dermatology visits in all 50 states, and you can find a list of online dermatologists ranked by the ones closest to you. You create a patient profile, describe your concern and upload photos, then get a diagnosis and treatment plan if the dermatologist can effectively address your issue virtually.
Another online dermatology platform is SkyMD, which offers a Dermatologist Near Me tool so you can click on your state on the map and find a practitioner that is licensed in your state. SkyMD is part of Compass Dermatopathology, which is a laboratory leader focused on diagnosis of skin diseases. Similar to other online dermatology sites, this one takes a store-and-record approach with asynchronous visits that require you to provide a description of the dermatology issue and upload photos so an online dermatologist can review the information and provide a treatment plan.
American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) allows you to search for a board-certified dermatologist in your area, and find a telemedicine dermatology provider who carries the AAD credentials. The resource offers informative articles about dermatological conditions. You can also learn how telemedicine is delivered by dermatologists through these tools. The association also helps patients understand how dermatologists are helping keep patients safe during the pandemic, and beyond.
American Board of Dermatology
The American Board of Dermatology is a medical specialty board of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Its goal is to protect the public by assessing and certifying doctors who meet educational, training and professional requirements.
DirectDerm connects you to board-certified dermatologists who can address skin issues. As the company points out, online dermatology including services from DirectDerm make care accessible for patients who live in underserved areas or in cases where there might be long wait times for in-person appointments.
First Derm allows you to consult with an online dermatologist by using its app to snap a picture of the skin issue. Information is sent to and reviewed by a First Derm dermatologist. Treatment is provided in 70% of cases, according to First Derm, which states: “If needed, our app directs you to your closest dermatologist, pediatrician or clinic.”
For online medical dermatology, DermUtopia by Virginia-based Dr. Dintiman offers an app and access to asynchronous visits where you upload a photo, fill out information about your skin concern, and receive insight from the doctor.
Teladoc allows you to use a Teladoc account to upload images of your skin condition. A board-certified dermatologist based in the United States will diagnose and provide a treatment plan within two days or less. The common issues Teladoc dermatologists can treat with an online appointment include: acne, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, rash, poison ivy, skin infections and dermatitis.
As an on-demand dermatology online resource, Pearl Health allows you to ask basic dermatology questions by using a pop-up chat box that appears when you visit the site. Based on the question you ask, the Pearl virtual assistant will connect you with a licensed dermatologist that specializes in your issue. You can chat one-on-one with the dermatologist.
These experts were consulted for their insight into online dermatology:
Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, Calif., in private practice at SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care
Dr. Cynthia Zelis, chief medical officer, MDLIVE