With scores of health IT leaders leaving the ATA’s annual meeting at the beginning of May, it is no surprise telemedicine news continues to make headlines — in particular, to deploy rural telemedicine services for underserved and impoverished areas around the U.S.
One name to watch is David Wong, M.D., a Stanford dermatologist, and co-founder and CEO of Direct Dermatology, an initiative that seeks to bring dermatology care to rural areas in California. Direct Dermatology physicians treat a range of conditions from acne to melanoma and psoriasis.
While speaking as a panelist at the Healthcare Innovation Summit at Stanford in April, Wong explained how Direct Dermatology functions. A patient takes a picture of their skin ailment and sends it via secure email to a provider with additional medical history enclosed. The provider will then examine the ailment and issue a report to the patient including prescriptions. Wong said that despite the provider-patient interaction occurring from a distance, in-person review might not always be needed for dermatology because consultations are image-driven from the start. The patient generally has to wait two days to receive reports post telemedicine visit.
Extending skin care to rural areas started gaining steam even before Wong’s initiative. A 2010 study found that online dermatology visits are as effective as office-based visits. The study was recorded after 151 women with mild acne had an office visit with a dermatologist — including researchers who took baseline pictures of the participants’ faces — and had to follow up with the dermatologist online. Patients also learned how to take photos of their own face to compare them to the original baseline photos, which were uploaded to their computer. Finally, during an online visit, patients filled out a questionnaire about their acne and sent it to the dermatologists in the study.
Researchers found that not only did online consultations save time, but traditional office visits don’t have to be the norm when both patients and providers are satisfied with online care.
Although California is the only state Direct Dermatology provides rural telemedicine care to at this time, it’s not out of the question that more providers and patients will take a similar route to their care if it’s available in the comfort of home — especially if home is underserved in the health care spectrum.