Considering Telehealth for Your Dermatology Practice

No doubt, throughout the pandemic, at one point or another you may have considered – or at the very least heard and/or read about – telehealth. If you did not, you might now be asking yourself, “Tele-what-now?”  Telehealth and dermatology are not incompatible at all and in fact, even though the pandemic is now largely over, you might want to think about the pros and cons of telehealth for your practice. Sometimes also called telemedicine, there could be a role for telehealth as part of your dermatology practice and we look at whether there are any practical benefits for doing so.

What You Need To Know

What is Telehealth/Telemedicine: We don’t need to look to Wikipedia for an explanation but here is the technical explanation of the practice of telehealth. It’s a means of providing health care through remote access technology. Telemedicine relies on remote delivery of such medical services as exams and consultations, allowing a provider to “evaluate, diagnose and treat patients without the need for an in-person visit.” Certainly, during the pandemic such remote access technology was an invaluable tool for when it just wasn’t possible to see an individual in-person without putting both the patient and practitioner at risk. The larger question is – is there still a role for telemedicine today?

Pros of Telehealth for Dermatology:

We’re happy to point out that in many circumstances, not only is there still a role for telehealth as part of your dermatology practice, but that it may even be of benefit to your bottom line.

  • Telemedicine is useful as a means of educating patients on basic care of certain dermatological conditions where ongoing maintenance is sufficient for adequate disease management and such education does not have to take place in person. In this case you are saving both time and labor costs including the expense of office staff, use of patient exam rooms and their related material expenses and more. Your patient too may appreciate not having to drive to your location, using gas and possibly paying for parking and/or having to take time off work resulting in lost wages. For rashes, eczema, psoriasis and other similar skin conditions it is an ideal health management tool.
  • Telemedicine is also an efficient tool for third or fourth post-surgical care follow up visits. While dressings and wound assessment likely need to happen in person soon after many procedures, if everything is healing well and the patient reports no concerns, telemedicine is ideal for continued follow up, for prescription or medicine reminders and renewals or for additional general advice on post-operative care. 
  • Telemedicine is generally fast, efficient, relatively inexpensive (assuming your practice already has the technology in place) and may even result in your ability to see more patients in a day, another potential benefit to your bottom line. It’s convenient for both patient and practitioner and whether COVID, or simply a regular cold and flu season, it also helps to prevent the spread of any infectious disease or virus
  • Finally, you might even be able to access new patients from more remote, rural areas who are otherwise underserved.

Cons of Telehealth for Dermatology:

As with anything, there are of course some drawbacks to practicing virtually. One of the biggest hurdles is likely from a billing perspective and the other significant challenge would be the potential for a missed diagnosis.

  • Telemedicine is still very much in its infancy and not all insurance providers are yet providing coverage for this type of treatment. Coding and co-pays and the percentage of amounts covered are not as universally applied as they would be to in-person office visits. Some services are not covered at all and when it comes to Medicare, only a small portion of any services are covered.
  • Technical challenges also will occasionally make telemedicine problematic. Patients without appropriate technology or wifi access won’t be able to benefit and some may not have adequate insurance that covers this service. 
  • Other challenges present include patient confidentiality and access to medical records made available online. An investment in secure channels of communication with appropriate virus and malware protections is a must. This will be a one time expense to be considered but if it is offset by an increased patient capacity you may find it worthwhile.
  • Something could be missed. By far, the largest hurdle for telehealth care is likely this; a missed diagnosis. Spotty wifi, language barriers in describing their condition, too long between diagnosis and treatment – these are all factors that may contribute to an improper or delayed diagnosis which in turn could impact patient outcomes.

Telemedicine is an excellent substitute over no access to health care, and an effective tool in allowing you to manage your practice more efficiently – provided you take extra care to also maintain your effectiveness. Despite the challenges, it has also been shown to improve patient outcomes when patients themselves are more compliant about follow up care and as a preventative tool it often delays or bypasses the need for hospital care altogether. Speaking widely, it is an effective cost containment tool for both you and your patients and an opportunity to reduce wait times, improve in-practice efficiencies and still allow you see patients in-person as often as necessary. In fact, while it’s certain telemedicine won’t, and cannot, replace in office care,  it can go a long way toward improving access for patients’ healthcare while also enhancing your bottom line.