When telecommunication and other forms of technology are used to provide health care from a distance, this is referred to as telemedicine. Teledermatology is one of the most popular applications of telemedicine, using audio, visual and data communication to exchange medical information related to the skin.
Store and forward teledermatology, commonly abbreviated to SAF, is usually the method of choice when it comes to the various teledermatology services available. It basically involves sending high-quality images to a specialist and can be as simple as emailing a photo, meaning that the patient does not need to have special technological knowledge. It also does not require any expensive equipment, and it means that both parties do not need to be present at the same time.
Real-Time/Live Interactive Teledermatology
Real-time teledermatology usually makes use of live video conferencing technology and requires both participants to be present for the session. This teledermatology service is usually more expensive than SAF, as it makes use of costly technology, and, in some cases, can even involve remote surgery.
Mobile teledermatology has recently become more popular, and involves the use of mobile devices, such as smartphones, as opposed to the more conventional teledermatology platforms. This is a fantastic service for frequent travellers, as well as for medical professionals that are regularly on-the-go and need to check up on their patients. It is also useful when it comes to assessing the severity of a patient’s condition, as it means that they can easily and quickly be referred to the appropriate specialist.
One of the greatest advantages to teledermatology is that it is so effective when it comes to triage, which refers to determining the severity of a patient’s condition. With SAF teledermatology, doctors are able to forward the images on to the appropriate specialist, while with real-time teledermatology, doctors can use telecommunication to consult a specialist in real time, obtaining instant feedback that the patient can immediately benefit from.
The practice of diagnosing a condition using teledermatology, without the aid of a health care professional, can be quite complicated, but, when it comes to chronic skin conditions, teledermatology is a convenient way to manage this, and allows the patient to have their condition examined from the comfort of their own home. Home teledermatology is also frequently used to follow-up on patients that have had skin issues, doing away with the time that they would otherwise have spent travelling back and forth to see a specialist, and subsequently reducing the costs associated with certain skin conditions.
Teledermatology services are becoming increasingly common, as they not only cut down on costs and travel time, but they also allow for flexibility and enable patients to receive necessary care at home rather than at a hospital whenever possible. While not all skin conditions can be diagnosed and treated via teledermatology, it is a great tool for triaging different conditions, and, as technology continues to advance, it will be interesting to see the path that teledermatology takes in the future.