From 84 days to five hours: Telemedicine reduces dermatology consult time

Allowing primary care doctors to take photos and send them to dermatologists improves access to specialty care, without any increase in costs.

A new study from researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine and Independence Blue Cross shows that when patients’ primary care doctors were able to photograph areas of concern and share them with dermatologists, the response time for a consultation dropped from almost 84 days to under five hours. In addition, the study did not show any undue increases in utilization or cost that might be prohibitive to making the practice widespread. The findings were published in Telemedicine and e-Health.

Closeup of doctor’s hands holding a smartphone over an open laptop beside a stethoscope.

“Telemedicine offers the opportunity to accelerate health care access by getting around infrastructure barriers: namely, heavily booked dermatology practices,” says the study’s senior author, Jules Lipoff, an assistant professor of clinical dermatology. “Our study provides evidence that more patients can be cared for with the same amount of resources we’re using now.”

Although this study’s data comes from before the emergence of COVID-19, telemedicine measures like these have taken on a particular importance since the outbreak because of its ability to accommodate social distancing.

“Video-based telemedicine has been extremely helpful amid the social distancing precautions brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak,” Lipoff explains. “But we also need to look toward how we can expand other forms that may be more efficient in delivering care … since we’ve shown how effective they can be.”

It is unclear whether many of the changes in telemedicine brought about from the COVID-19 expansion will become permanent. But the researchers hope their study can serve as proof of the viability of photo-based telemedicine for dermatology—and other specialties, too.

This story is by Frank Otto. Read more at Penn Medicine News.