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A decade of telemedicine policy has advanced in just 2 weeks


 

Sharing expertise

After the first week of tracking data to gauge the effectiveness of the algorithm at Massachusetts General, Dr. Kroshinsky said she is buoyed.

Of the 35 patients assessed electronically – all of whom would previously have been seen in person – only 4 ended up needing a subsequent in-person consult, she reported.

“It’s worked out great,” said Dr. Kroshinsky, who noted that the pandemic is a “nice opportunity” to test different telehealth platforms and improve quality down the line. “We never had to use any excessive PPE, beyond what was routine, and the majority of patients were able to be staffed remotely. All patients had successful outcomes.”

Dr. Carrie L. Kovarik of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Dr. Carrie L. Kovarik

With telehealth more firmly established in dermatology than in most other specialties, dermatologists are now helping clinicians in other fields who are rapidly ramping up their own telemedicine offerings.

These might include obstetrics and gynecology or “any medical specialty where they need to do checkups with their patients and don’t want them coming in for nonemergent visits,” said Carrie L. Kovarik, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

In addition to fielding many recent calls and emails from physicians seeking guidance on telehealth, Dr. Kovarik, Dr. Lee, and colleagues have published the steps required to integrate the technology into outpatient practices.

“Now that there’s a time for broad implementation, our colleagues are looking to us for help and troubleshooting advice,” said Dr. Kovarik, who is also a member of the AAD COVID-19 response task force.

Various specialties “lend themselves to telehealth, depending on how image- or data-dependent they are,” Dr. Lee said in an interview. “But all specialists thinking of limiting or shutting down their practices are thinking about how they can provide continuity of care without exposing patients or staff to the risk of contracting the coronavirus.”

After-COVID goals

In his first week of virtual patient consults, Dr. Desai said he saw about 50 patients, which is still far fewer than the 160-180 he sees in person during a normal week.

“The problem is that patients don’t really want to do telehealth. You’d think it would be a good option,” he said, “but patients hesitate because they don’t really know how to use their device.” Some have instead rescheduled in-person appointments for months down the line.

Although telehealth has enabled Dr. Desai to readily assess patients with acne, hair loss, psoriasis, rashes, warts, and eczema, he’s concerned that necessary procedures, such as biopsies and dermoscopies, could be dangerously delayed. It’s also hard to assess the texture and thickness of certain skin lesions in photos or videos, he said.

“I’m trying to stay optimistic that this will get better and we’re able to move back to taking care of patients the way we need to,” he said.

Like Dr. Desai, other dermatologists who’ve implemented telemedicine during the pandemic have largely been swayed by the relaxed CMS regulations. “It’s made all the difference,” Dr. Kovarik said. “It has brought down the anxiety level and decreased questions about platforms and concentrated them on how to code the visits.”

And although it’s difficult to envision post-COVID medical practice in the thick of the pandemic, dermatologists expect the current strides in telemedicine will stick.

“I’m hoping that telehealth use isn’t dialed back all the way to baseline” after the pandemic eases, Dr. Kovarik said. “The cat’s out of the bag, and now that it is, hopefully it won’t be put back in.”

“If there’s a silver lining to this,” Dr. Kroshinsky said, “I hope it’s that we’ll be able to innovate around health care in a fashion we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”

A version of this article originally appeared on Medscape.com.

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