The challenges of dermatological care
Several factors had led to the overload of our healthcare system, especially the NHS, and patients are the ones to pay the price for that. Long waiting times, delayed appointments and long lines on hospitals often discourage people from looking for healthcare. Our current lifestyle eats up every single second of our time, and we rarely have a free afternoon to drop by the hospital, so for one reason or another we end up giving up on the possibility and trying something else or just doing nothing at all. When we don't feel well, we might want to put a little bit more pressure, making ourselves some time to go see a doctor or fighting for a chance to see a specialist a little more, but when it comes to routine checkups or testings, we are far more likely to simply give it a pass.
This may have terrible consequences in some cases when timely diagnosis of a condition can make the difference between light or bad sickness, or even life and death. Dermatology is one of the areas where this is more evident. A simple mole that looks a little bit odd could actually be a tumour, some sort of cancer developing in our bodies, and timely diagnosis could stop it from spreading and eventually killing us. However, if the person doesn't see a dermatologist and gets checked, the threat will remain undiagnosed and therefore, untreated.
How teledermatology can help
Researchers, companies and even some public health services have resourced to technology in the search for a solution for these issues. Some attempts at compensating the lack of availability of face-to-face appointment slots have actually proved very effective, so much so that a new area of dermatology has developed thanks to the usage of digital technology.
Teledermatology is a method for diagnosing skin conditions at distance. It does require some special equipment to do so; however, thanks to the development of technology, our everyday devices are coming closer and closer to being appropriate replacements for that equipment - some of them, already are.
The method of teledermatology is very simple. A high definition picture of a mole, blemish, rush or any other skin feature is sent to a dermatologist who evaluates whether or not the patient needs a face-to-face appointment to run other checks. Some treatment can even be prescribed this way in some cases. The usefulness of teledermatology is that cases that require immediate attention, such as aggressive skin cancer, can be detected in time and the patient is sent to a checkout.
A doctor in your smartphone
Virtual dermatology care increases access to specialists because it is much easier, cheaper and faster to take a pic of your skin and send it to a doctor than going through the whole process of getting an appointment and going to a hospital or primary care center for a skin check. This is great because teledermatology has proven to help diagnose skin cancer and other serious conditions that require medical attention, thus saving lives.
Some companies have developed special equipment for teledermatology, usually in the form of high-definition cameras that take 2D and 3D pictures of skin features which are later sent to a dermatologist for a diagnosis. However, our technology develops very fast, and some smartphones and other devices are already good enough to provide high resolution pictures suitable for the exercise of dermatology. There are even phone apps on trial that allow you to take a snapshot of your skin and send it to a doctor.
There is an increasing presence of high resolution cameras on smartphones, with over 5 megapixels no longer being a surprise, and even mid range phones with better cameras than before can take good enough pictures for dermatologists to appreciate the details of skin features. Of course, the pictures have to be taken properly, with the right illumination and on focus, but cameras themselves are ready to take that sort of picture. With more accessible HD cameras on phones and cheaper high-end video cameras available, the possibility of recurring to teledermatology without buying any special equipment is closer than ever. A wider broadband and faster connection via satellite also allow to upload high resolution images from smartphones. You no longer need an Internet domestic connection to send your doctor a detailed, HD photo.
These apps and services are still under test, but results show that diagnosis performed via teledermatology can be just as precise as face-to-face diagnosis, so the huge advantages of this new system of medicine become evident. Hopefully, teledermatology will allow people who live in rural areas or far away from cities to get proper diagnosis even if they have restricted access to hospitals.