Teledermatology has risen in demand in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, as this alternative digital method of delivering care has been helpful for adhering to social distancing measures and reducing the risk for viral transmission among patients and clinicians alike.
In a single-center study published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, researchers from Harvard Medical School reported on the major trends in teledermatology utilization during clinic reopening following COVID-19-related shutdowns.
The researchers analyzed all adult teledermatology visits billed in the Department of Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston from May through July 2020. Clinics began phased reopenings starting May 26, 2020.
From May to July, there was an increase in teledermatology visits at the center among people between the ages of 18 and 44 years, patients who were Asian, and privately insured patients. Teledermatology visits during this time decreased among older, White, and Medicare patients. In total, the number of teledermatology visits decreased from 1650 in May to 1514 in June and 818 in July.
Once inperson assessment and management became available, teledermatology visits decreased, particularly for skin lesions and cutaneous malignancies (P =.0426). There was no similar decrease for benign skin lesions. Also, teledermatology visits for common dermatoses such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis, atopic dermatosis, and eczema increased as clinics reopened (P =.0482). This suggested to the investigators that, “patients and/or dermatologists may feel comfortable managing common dermatoses via teledermatology even when inperson evaluation is an option.”
A limitation of this study was its reliance on data from a single urban academic institution, which may reduce the generalizability of the findings across other clinics.
The researchers suggest “dermatology practices will need to optimize teledermatology usage to balance in-person clinic volume limitations and access constraints,” considering the benefits of teledermatology in certain cases.
Su MY, Smith GP, Das S. Trends in teledermatology utilization during clinic reopening following COVID-19 closures. Published online December 11, 2020. J Am Acad Dermatol. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2020.12.019