Thursday, April 17, 2014

Got the Itch? An Online Dermatogist Can Help

Got the Itch?  An Online Dermatologist Can Help.  As discussed last month in Your Online Doctor Will See You Now, growing demand for more convenient, less costly health care delivery has given rise to a movement toward online medical treatment.  For a variety of minor, common health conditions, consumers can now use web and smartphone enabled services to connect, at their own volition, with board certified physicians and other primary care providers in their State of residence for treatment plans and prescriptions, when medically necessary.

While companies like MeMD, American Well and Zipnosis have focused on facilitating online treatment for colds, allergies, ear infections and a variety of other common ailments, other innovative companies have honed in on specialty care areas that depend heavily on a visual diagnosis.  A prime example is dermatology.  DermatologistOnCall, Direct Dermatology and DermLink are among several companies that connect patients online to board-certified dermatologists for diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of skin diseases and disorders.  While there is some minor variation between service solutions, in the basic model a patient sets up an online account, answers general health questions, uploads photos of their skin condition and then submits this information for review by a dermatologist.  A consumer can usually initiate a consultation 24/7, but these solutions are not live webcam consultations.  Instead, submitted photos and health information are reviewed by a dermatologist in the consumer's State of residence on a delayed basis, so it can take anywhere from 24 hours to several business days, depending on the service provider, for a treatment plan to be ready for a consumer.  If a prescription is involved in the treatment plan, it can be sent electronically to a pharmacy near the consumer's residence for fulfillment.  If the consulting dermatologist deems that an in-office procedure (like a biopsy) is needed, the consumer can arrange a referral to local dermatologist for further evaluation.

Using a similar online delivery approach, other innovators like YoDerm and PocketDerm have an even narrower focus.  These two services aim specifically at acne diagnosis and treatment, connecting consumers online to dermatologists for acne care and prescription medication.


Using telecommunications to remotely diagnose and treat skin diseases and disorders might seem novel, but it has actually been around since the 90's in one form or another.  The historical teledermatology (yes, there is such a term as Teledermatology) model has been aimed at serving patients who, for whatever reason, have poor physical access to a dermatologist.  Through a provider controlled telemedicine service, the patient is connected to a dermatologist for an online or mobile device consultation.  These provider controlled teledermatology service solutions remain prevalent to this day.  In fact, even the American Academy of Dermatology sponsors its own teledermatology program, called AccessDerm, that connects it member dermatologists to under-served populations in the U.S. via the internet and mobile platforms.  So the concept behind using the internet and mobile platforms to service dermatology patients is not a new one.  What makes these newer services, like DermatologistOnCall and DermLink, noteworthy is that they are providing a platform where consumers, rather than providers, initiate web-enabled  medical treatment for skin conditions and disorders. 

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