Are Virtual Dermatology Appointments Legit?
By Ronald H. Falcon, M.D.

Are Virtual Dermatology Appointments Legit?

August 8, 2016   |   ASK THE EXPERTS  

I’ve heard about “virtual visits” with dermatologists—do these visits work, and can I do one for my child?

Online and mobile health care apps are numerous, but when it comes to dermatology, the ability to conduct an online visit with a dermatology specialist is proving to be a very successful application for such technology. That’s because dermatology is such a visual area of practice, and thankfully, today’s smart phones take high-quality pictures that can be easily shared with a doctor. But as with anything, patients should be sure to select an app that takes a clinical approach to the virtual visit, whether it’s for you or your child. Here are some things to look for in a dermatology visit app:

  • Make sure the app is secure and is HIPAA compliant to protect your personal data.
  • The app should collect information similar to what you would provide during an in-office visit: patient’s medical history, medications, allergies, current problem condition description, etc.
  • Make sure that the available doctors are licensed to provide care in your state and that they are dermatologists.
  • There should be features to ask the doctor follow-up questions after you’ve received your diagnosis.
  • Look for apps that facilitate e-prescribing, in case you need medication orders sent to your pharmacy.
  • Be prepared to pay an out-of-pocket fee for the visit, as only some insurance plans cover online visits.

As a practicing board-certified dermatologist in New York, I have found such online apps to be very useful in treating patients that might have difficulty getting in to the office. The benefit to busy families is the time-saving convenience of not having the take time off from both work and school to fit in an appointment.

But there are certain times such apps are not ideal. If there is a true dermatologic emergency, such as a severe skin infection or severe allergic reaction, the patient should always go to the emergency room. Also, online dermatology visits should not be seen as a replacement for an annual full body examination. And of course, online visits cannot replace the need for skin biopsies or other procedures. Finally, there are occasions when a dermatologist may see something in the images of an online visit that prompts them to refer the patient to the office for closer examination. This is not common, but it’s good for patients to know that it could occur.

So in summary: Yes, parents can feel confident in giving online dermatology visits a try, even for their minor children. It could prove to be a very good solution for a child who is already embarrassed by a skin condition.


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