From AMA.org (June 12, 2020):
“There’s an aging population, and there’s a lot of skin out there,” said Dr. Isaacs. “One in five people in the country develop skin cancer, but there is a plethora of benign skin conditions that also require the expertise of the dermatologist. So, you have increasing demand and a limited supply of dermatologists.”
A basic example of how the TPMG teledermatology program works involves a patient who is concerned about a suspicious lesion or mole on their body. The patient can take a picture of the location in question and send it to their primary care physician for review. The physician can request the patient come in for a more thorough evaluation, or if the physician determines that a dermatologist should be involved, they can send the photo to an on-call dermatologist to review.
If the patient does an in-person evaluation, the physician can also take a higher-quality image and forward that to a dermatologist. The dermatologist can then decide whether there is a problem, if a prescription is needed, or if there should be an in-person evaluation and potential biopsy.
A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2019 found that when TPMG dermatologists had the chance to look at well-photographed skin lesions, they were able to identify nearly 10% more cancers with almost 40% fewer referrals to the dermatology department.
A high quality I-phone picture of a skin lesion can provide the dermatologist with 90% of the information needed for a diagnosis.
Melanoma diagnosis depends even more on the visual. In fact, Artificial Intelligence evaluation of Melanoma may be overtaking dermatologist expertise.
Size can be indicated by including a dime in the photo.
It is true that the roughness, softness or hardness may be important in diagnosis, but perhaps these characteristics could be described by the Patient.
This week, I started worrying about an itchy, rapidly growing lesion on my back. I sent a picture of this to my dermatologist, hoping he would call it a wart and reassure me. It was very regular, soft, and had a rough surface like warts I have had in the past.
However, he saw some redness and had me come in for removal. We will see what the pathology shows.
Dermatologists are in short supply, and making more efficient use of their expertise attractive.
Calling the Doctor’s office, arranging for e-mail Photo transmission, and a talk with the Doctor on the phone could save a visit. The Primary Doctor could send you directly to the dermatologist, or might be comfortable with watching and waiting.
Dermatology is indeed a field ripe for Telemedicine.