How to use teledermatology for psoriasis

| Kara Anderson

Not everyone with psoriasis lives near a dermatologist. Sometimes work or family responsibilities can get in the way of maintaining regular appointments.

That's one place where the power of technology can help.

Teledermatology, the practice of consulting with a dermatologist online, continues to expand and is especially important for those with chronic conditions like psoriasis that require ongoing treatment, said Dr. April Armstrong, vice chair of clinical research and director of the psoriasis program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.

How does teledermatology work?

There are two main ways that people can use teledermatology, said Armstrong – either by sharing photos (a practice called "store-and-forward") or "live interactive," which is more like a virtual appointment.

"In our practice, we've done both, and I find that most patients prefer live interactive," she said. "They can really talk with the doctor, and the doctor can pick up on non-verbal clues. If a patient has a question, they can ask right then."

To make the most of a teledermatology appointment, Armstrong also offers the following tips:

  • You must have Internet access and a camera.
  • If using "store-and-forward," be sure to send the best possible images. In some cases, a primary care physician may even work with you in their office to help you get the best photos.
  • Write down questions ahead of time.
  • Be open to technology. Telemedicine providers have to abide by the same legal privacy regulations as a doctor in an office.

How do I find a teledermatologist?

In 2012, there were 38 teledermatology offices in the U.S., according to the U.S. Teledermatology Survey. The trend is growing.

If you are interested in using teledermatology, but do not work with a dermatologist who uses this service, ask for a referral from your primary care provider, Armstrong said. The insurance reimbursement varies for teledermatology from state to state. Be sure both you and your provider’s office check your state’s reimbursement policies.

There are also online sites where users can send photos to a board-certified dermatologist, such as AccessDerm. Armstrong cautions that if using an online site, visitors should check out the doctors' profiles to be sure they are working with a qualified provider.

In a paper published in March of 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology, Dr. Carrie Kovarik writes that the Affordable Care Act could mean an increase in people using teledermatology appointments.

Already, patients often have to wait a month for dermatology appointments, writes Kovarik, associate professor of dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and assistant professor of medicine. She goes on to explain that within the next two years, as more people receive access to health insurance, providers could be flooded with a whole new group of patients.

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