Expert's Opinion

Health, Beauty and Ease

By Amy Trow, VP of marketing for DermatologistOnCall | March 20, 2017

A look at teledermatology apps.

 The ability to conduct an online photo-based visit with a dermatology specialist is proving to be a successful application of smartphone, digital camera, and telehealth technologies. Drug stores and patient advocacy sites are recognizing the benefit and getting involved in the movement.  One reason for its success is dermatology’s reality as a highly visual practice. Dermatologists are trained extensively with photographic images and today’s camera phones bring ever-increasing quality to the equation.
The American Medical Association this summer released a new set of guidelines for telemedicine, especially when all apps aren’t created equal. Patients who turn to teledermatology who are truly seeking a medical solution will want to select a solution taking a clinical approach.

So, what to look for in a dermatology visit app so that you’re giving your skin the best care it deserves? The following attributes are important for patients to consider, whatever the healthcare app:

Real Doctors: Some apps use computerized automation to analyze the image without human intervention. Apps of a more clinical nature provide a trained dermatologist to review images and information. You ideally should be given information about the doctor, where their practice is located, and any board certifications.  

State Licensed Docs: Apps in compliance with state-level telemedicine laws will ensure you only get a diagnosis from a doctor licensed to practice in your state. That’s because if you need to have a follow-up in person, they will be accessible to you. If you’re seeking a diagnosis, and don’t get matched with a doctor licensed in your state, that may be a red flag.

Opinion vs. Diagnosis: Some apps are only designed to provide you with an opinion and clearly disclaim that they do not render a diagnosis. Other apps are built to deliver a medical diagnosis usually accompanied by a recommended treatment plan. Know which kind you’re using.

Condition Limitations: Some apps are only in the business of serving one type of dermatologic condition (acne, for example) while others will consult on the full range of skin, hair, and nail problems.

Complete Health History: If a medical diagnosis is your goal, then the app should collect much of the same information that you would normally provide during an in-office visit: your medical history, medications, allergies, current problem, condition description, etc. You probably want your dermatologist to see your case holistically and render the best possible diagnosis.  

Online Prescriptions: In many states, apps are permitted to facilitate e-prescribing by the doctor, should you need medication orders sent to your pharmacy. Again, if you suspect you might need a prescription for your dermatologic condition, you may want more than an opinion app. Prescriptions may not be available in all apps – but also not in all states.

Security: Make sure the app or website is secure (look for the lock symbol in the browser) and is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant to protect personal data. Apps that are also HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) compliant provide an added level of security.

Cost: An out-of-pocket fee is usually required for the interaction, as only some insurance plans cover online visits. A range of apps exist, so costs can vary.  For those with high-deductible plans, these out-of-pocket fees may be lower than what you would pay against your annual deductible, particularly if you can apply funds from a Health Savings Account.
So to summarize, an increasing number of patients are saving time and money with teledermatology, and pharmacist and beauty experts are becoming more educated in letting their customers know what to expect from the telemedicine movement. When consumers do more than “skin deep” research, they are usually more satisfied.
About the expert:
Amy Trow is VP of marketing for Iagnosis, a leader in online skin care. The company's flagship product, DermatologistOnCall, is best-in-class for helping board-certified dermatologists in the U.S. offer patients convenient 24/7 online and mobile access to affordable, high-quality skin care.