Teledermatology Basics: Making the Most of a New Situation

You’ve scheduled your first dermatology appointment since the start of the COVID-19, but there’s a catch—it’s teledermatology! What does this type of visit mean and how can you best prepare for it? We’ll get you up to speed with everything you need to know to feel comfortable during your appointment.

The Basics

Teledermatology refers to the use of telemedicine—caring for patients during a visit when the provider and patient are not physically near one another—during a visit with a dermatologist. There are three types of patients that benefit the most from teledermatology:

  • Those who can’t easily travel to a dermatologist due to a lack of transportation or other barriers to access.
  • Those with isolated skin lesions that are otherwise healthy.
  • Those who want to save the time and money associated with physically going to the doctor’s office.

Another advantage to teledermatology, one that is especially prominent during the COVID-19 era, is that it reduces a person’s potential exposure to the virus by eliminating the need to travel to a healthcare setting. On the other hand, seeing a doctor over a web camera rather than in person is probably a new and unusual experience to many. More on this later.

Types of Visits

Typically, there are two types of teledermatology visits:

  • Store-and-forward (SAF), also known as asynchronous visits
  • Live video, also known as synchronous visits

An SAF visit might look like this: You take a photo and send it to your dermatologist; your dermatologist will then evaluate and send back a diagnostic report based on those images the same day. You never actually speak to your dermatologist in real-time. Live video visits are how you imagine the typical doctor’s visit to go, but they would be happening over your computer’s web camera rather than in-person.

Generally, SAF visits allow for more flexibility than video visits. Depending on the quality of your computer’s camera, SAF has even been shown to have higher diagnostic accuracy—something to keep in mind if you know your webcam is of lower quality. Patients seeing a dermatologist for the first time or those who have a complicated medical history may benefit from a video visit. Because your dermatologist is accessible and available in real time, this may be the best option if you have a lot of questions you want answered.

Preparing for Your Visit

Now that you know teledermatology basics – but how can you prepare for your teledermatology appointment? The American Academy of Dermatologists, the largest professional organization of dermatologists in the U.S., recommends after booking your appointment that you check whether your insurance covers teledermatology visit. The good news is many insurance companies now do in the wake of COVID-19. The day before your live video visit, make sure your internet connection is strong and that you have good background lighting. During your SAF visit, be sure to take good photos. Here is a handy guide with lots of photo tips. In fact, if you think teledermatology is the way you’ll continue seeing your dermatologist, then you can even invest in a dermatoscope— a specialized camera for taking dermatology photos.

That’s that! You’re ready for your first teledermatology visit. While COVID-19 has certainly disrupted the practice of dermatology, please trust that your dermatologists are still doing everything they can to ensure that you are still receiving the best possible care for your skin. With the widespread implementation of teledermatology in many dermatology offices across the nation, this will likely be an option available to you for years to come

Published on 11/02/2020 | Last updated on 04/30/2021