According to a recent survey created by researchers at George Washington University (GW), the majority of dermatology patients find telehealth appointments to be a suitable alternative to in-person office visits. The Journal of Drugs in Dermatology extensively goes over these published results.
As the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly across the world with over 100 million confirmed cases thus far, the healthcare industry is seeing a dramatic increase in the use of telemedicine. Millions of people are beginning to use telemedicine for the first time, in order to seek a diagnosis for their symptoms from the safety of their home. Telemedicine helps reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 by allowing patients to communicate with their physicians electronically, to minimize as much human contact as possible.
Insurance companies are also beginning to include telemedicine in their client’s coverage, whereas prior to the COVID-19 pandemic insurances generally only covered telemedicine under special circumstances, and for patients living in remote areas. Only recently have many specialties been forced to see an increased usage in their virtual format, but dermatology has already been experiencing an increase in telehealth visits over the last decade.
The team that conducted the survey at GW distributed online surveys to dermatology patients, at the GW Medical Faculty Associated, to gage just how satisfactory tele-dermatology sessions were. The survey asked questions ranging from the reasons the patient scheduled a telehealth evaluation, to overall response to the consultation, and whether the said patient was experiencing any COVID related issues that could prevent protective care.
Patients reported what they liked most about their telehealth experience, was that they were time efficient, did not require transportation, and effectively maintained social distancing. Patients also liked how it was easier for doctors to stay on schedule, and not delay or cancel their appointments. This was a main point of emphasis, as 47% of the participants surveyed reportedly had a previous appointment cancelled due to scheduling restraints, or because of COVID-19 issues.
The results were overwhelmingly positive. When patients were asked whether they would recommend telehealth services to others, the majority of patients (roughly 93%) answered yes.
On the other hand, virtual appointments do come with some drawbacks, including privacy and security concerns, appropriate image acquisition, and appropriate provider training or experience. "Video calling can certainly present challenges with regard to creating an intimate and collaborative physician-patient relationship compared to in-person encounters, not to mention enhancing certain areas that already have deficiencies," said Adam Friedman, MD, interim chair of the Department of Dermatology and professor of dermatology at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "Accurate diagnosis of hair, skin, and nails in all skin types has been highlighted as an area in great need of improvement. Telemedicine can easily add an additional layer of complexity, widening the gap and impacting care."
In conclusion, the results indicated that tele-dermatology appointments were an adequate substitute for in-person appointments. “Telehealth can and should continue to provide high-quality care for patients of dermatologists during the COVID-19 pandemic in tandem with proper education to ensure meaningful use” suggest the survey’s publishers. (Science News, most patients find tele-dermatology appointments suitable alternative to office visits).