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Can telemedicine work for dermatology patients?


As someone who has spent a fair amount of time in dermatologists' offices, I was interested to read that a recent study deemed online dermatology visits as effective as office visits.

In the study, 151 women with moderate facial acne received an initial office visit with a dermatologist where researchers took three baseline photos of their face. Patients assigned to follow up with the doctor using a secure Web site were given a digital camera and trained on how to photograph their face so that photos could be compared to the baseline images. During online visits, patients uploaded three photos and completed a questionnaire about their acne. Doctors responded to patients within three business days.

Overall, researchers found acne patients who participated in virtual visits had similar outcomes to patients treated in the doctor's office. Dermatologists and patients reported comparable satisfaction with care regardless of visit type, and online visits saved patients time.

Despite the study's promising results, there remain a number of challenges to dermatologists implementing online visits. MedPage Today reports:

Of the 54 patients who participated in the e-visits, 39 had to resubmit one or more e-visits due to poor photo quality or technical errors, such as failing to attach photos...

...The authors cautioned that the study subjects were mostly white, educated women, so the results might not apply to the wider population of acne patients, who might be less comfortable taking such an active role in their own treatment or using technology.

They also noted that their study did not address comedones or cysts because neither are easily apparent through digital photography.

Of the 20% dropout rate in the study, two-thirds of the dropouts were from the group receiving online treatment.

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