You can check next week’s weather, make dinner reservations and even video chat with a friend on the other side of the world, all from your smartphone. Now, with the growth of telemedicine, you can add seeing a doctor and receiving a diagnosis, treatment plan and prescription to that list.
In Southwest Florida, telemedicine has made its way into nonprofit organizations such as the David Lawrence Center, hospital systems such as NCH and medical practices such as Riverchase Dermatology. Its benefits? Increased doctor availability and improved access to clinical care, whether patients are temporarily away on vacation or have trouble making time in their daily schedules for a face-to-face appointment.
There are two types of telemedicine encounters: live, or synchronous, which is a real-time exchange similar to a video chat; and store and forward, or S&F, in which a patient completes their portion of the visit online and sends photos of their condition securely to a HIPAA-compliant server, which is then accessed remotely and reviewed by a provider at a separate time.
Riverchase Dermatology’s telemedicine branch, called DermConnect, utilizes the latter option, which works well because, according to the American Board of Dermatology, 59 percent of the board exam material is image-based. “Statistics are showing that the misdiagnosis rates—which are very low—between teledermatology visits and traditional in-person visits are the same,” says Tara Watson, director of clinical operations at Riverchase. “The cameras on smartphones and tablets produce the same or better pictures than traditional cameras, so it makes sense that telemedicine and dermatology are widely acknowledged as a natural fit.”
The DermConnect process works best, Watson says, with a single, problem-focused concern, such as acne, a fungal infection of the nails or skin, or various rashes and lesions. It is not, she notes, a substitute for a full-body skin exam, which is used to detect skin cancer or other more serious problems. However, Riverchase providers have a treatment rate of more than 90 percent through the telemedicine platform, and they can even send your prescription electronically to your pharmacy if required.
Telemedicine has gained popularity among patients, too. Less than two years ago, DermConnect began as a small pilot program with just a handful of providers. Since then, it has grown to 16 providers, all of whom are a part of the Riverchase family, who have provided hundreds of virtual visits to patients.
As the state of health care in the United States shifts, providers are scrutinizing value versus cost and quality versus quantity, Watson explains. “Telemedicine is an excellent solution for [providers] and for patients, since it can integrate with medical records, uses fewer resources than traditional office visits, offers quality health care at a lower cost, and allows us to address emergent issues in a more timely manner,” she says.
More and more employers, including the insurance provider Aetna, are including telemedicine as optional services in their employee wellness plans. “That’s not only a vote of confidence, but a clear indication of telemedicine’s place in the future of medicine,” Watson says.