The Health Section

Teledermatology: less wait times, saves costs

Depending on where you live, you can be waiting  as long as 256 days to see a dermatologist. A new model for dermatology consultations can lead to a significant decrease in wait times for patients and save on medical costs, according to a recent study published in Telemedicine and eHealth Journal.

Wait times to see a dermatologist ranged from one day to 265 days

The new model is a different form of telemedicine called store-and-forward teledermatology. People will upload information and photos to a secure server through a web portal, and a board certified dermatologist will look at the data on their own time, render a diagnosis, and recommend the appropriate treatment, including prescriptions sent directly to the appropriate pharmacies.

“It’s an asynchronous doctor visit,” said Jay Rajda, M.D., MBA, FACP, chief clinical transformation officer at Aetna and one of the authors of the study. “You don’t have live interaction with the dermatologist, and you’re not face-to-face.”

Less waiting, more savings and happiness

For six months, 47,411 people were given access to teledermatology services. The services gave participants the opportunity to receive a consultation by a board certified, licensed dermatologist.

After the pilot, researchers found the average time-to-consult was 16.31 hours. Patient satisfaction was rated at a 4.38 on a scale of 5.

Over 75 percent of the consultations were completed within 24 hours. Nearly 94 percent of consultations were completed within 48 hours — a substantial difference from waiting months for an appointment.

With teledermatology, the average time-to-consult was 16.31 hours.

Patient satisfaction was rated at 4.38 out of 5.

The cost to implement the teledermatology services was much lower than the typical cost of in-person dermatology services. The cost savings were not only for the initial visit, but were also sustained over the subsequent months.

“This study proved the clinical and economic value of this approach” Rajda said. “In addition, you can make access so much easier for our members which drives high satisfaction. We make sure members are getting great clinical quality care by ensuring all dermatologists are board-certified and Aetna credentialed clinicians. And at the same time, you keep costs down.”

Keeping costs down during the consultation and any follow up consultations is important, Rajda added, because the savings can be transferred to members.

Increasing access without increasing costs

Over 75 percent of consultations were made within 24 hours.

Nearly 94 percent of consultations were made within 48 hours.

The store-and-forward teledermatology model is one way health care is moving towards personalized health, offering consumers more choice in how they interact with the healthcare system. With the change, the researchers noted there will be greater acceptance of remote digital health technology.

Teledermatology not only gives people the opportunity to receive a consultation from a dermatologist within two days, but it can play a significant role in expanding the delivery of high quality health care without raising costs.