Wait times to get into a dermatologist are often long. Virtual dermatologists might fill in the gap.
Canadians have longer waits to see a medical specialist than most other industrialized nations.That’s according to a report by the Canadian Institute for Health. A virtual dermatologist and a smart phone just might be one way to bridge the gap.
Health Plan of San Joaquin is a managed care plan that serves more than 380,000 people living in California’s Central Valley. In 2012, the plan began offering virtual dermatology referrals through a company called Direct Dermatology. In the beginning, GPs and internists referred patients to a virtual dermatologist complete with background information about the patient plus photos of the rash or skin lesion – both uploaded to a secure web site. The virtual dermatologist would give an opinion about the rash to the referring doctor within a few days
More recently, patients have been referred to a bricks and mortar building where they are interviewed and photographed first by a nurse. If necessary, a skin biopsy can be done there too.
So far, the program has been quite successful. Researchers from Rand Health the largest independent health policy research program in the U.S. crunched the numbers. Of close to 400,000 patients in the plan, 8614 were referred a dermatologist. Overall, half the patients saw a dermatologist in person, and half had a virtual appointment. After the U.S. Affordable Care Act came into effect in 2014, more than 108,000 new patients entered the plan. Of the newbies referred to a dermatologist, one quarter saw one in person and three quarters had a virtual appointment.
That means access to virtual dermatologists enabled the plan to keep with a huge increase in the demand for dermatology referrals. It did so despite the region having far fewer dermatologists than the national average.
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