According to patients surveyed by researchers at the George Washington University (GW) Department of Dermatology, the majority of patients find teledermatology appointments to be a suitable alternative to in-person office visits.
Results of the survey were published online ahead of print in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology (Jan. 14, 2021).
“Teledermatology boasts a number of benefits, including increased access to care, cost savings for patients, convenience and, with the current pandemic, avoids physical contact,” said Samuel Yeroushalmi, the first author of the study, in a press release. Yeroushalmi is a third-year medical student at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Covid-19 has changed how patients interact with the healthcare system and seek medical care, the study’s authors note. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have led to a transition from in-office to virtual visits.
However, virtual appointments come with some drawbacks, including privacy and security concerns, appropriate image acquisition and appropriate provider training or experience, according to the researchers.
To evaluate patient satisfaction with teledermatology appointments, the investigators distributed an online survey to dermatology patients at the GW Medical Faculty Associates. The survey assessed the patients’ reasons for scheduling the telehealth visit, as well as any pandemic-related barriers to care and overall satisfaction with the appointment.
Of the respondents to the survey, 47% reported having a previous appointment cancelled due to Covid-19 and 17.7% were new patients who had not previously had an in-office appointment.
The most-cited reasons patients gave for liking their telehealth experience included: they were time-efficient, did not require transportation and effectively maintained social distancing. Reasons patients did not like their virtual appointments included the lack of physical touch and a perception that they received an inadequate assessment.
Only 6.9% of respondents said they would not recommend telehealth services.
“Video calling can certainly present challenges with regard to creating an intimate and collaborative physician-patient relationship compared to in-person encounters, not to mention enhancing certain areas that already have deficiencies,” said Dr. Adam Friedman, the interim chair of the Department of Dermatology and professor of dermatology at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
“Accurate diagnosis of hair, skin and nails in all skin types has been highlighted as an area in great need of improvement,” he added. “Telemedicine can easily add an additional layer of complexity, widening the gap and impacting care.”
Researchers concluded that most patients who had teledermatology appointments found the visits to be an adequate substitute for in-person appointments.
The authors suggest that telehealth can and should continue to provide high-quality care for patients of dermatologists during the Covid-19 pandemic in tandem with proper education to ensure meaningful use.