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Teledermatology Could Cut Down on Patient Referrals

Web-based consultation offers potential to reduce referrals to dermatologist by 20.7 percent

THURSDAY, May 21 (HealthDay News) -- Teledermatologic consultations might reduce patient referrals from a general practitioner to a dermatologist, according to research published in the May Archives of Dermatology.

Nina Eminovic, Ph.D., of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and colleagues analyzed data from 605 patients who saw 84 general practitioners. Practitioners were randomly assigned to an intervention using an online teledermatologic consultation system to file images of the skin problem with a dermatologist, or to a control group in which referred patients were seen by a dermatologist as part of the usual procedure. All patients visited a dermatologist a month later; the primary outcome was the proportion of preventable consultations, as judged by the dermatologists.

The researchers found that dermatologists considered consultations preventable for 39 percent of the teledermatologic consultation patients, compared to 18.3 percent of the control patients. These were often felt to be preventable due to patient recovery or the potential for the general practitioners to treat the patients themselves. At the one-month visit, 20 percent of patients receiving the teledermatologic consultation had recovered compared to 4.1 percent of control patients, the authors note.

"We found suggestive evidence that teledermatologic consultation is useful in reassuring patients. The proportion of patients for whom a consultation was nonpreventable because of patient request was much higher in the control group than in the teledermatologic consultation group. Future studies should explore this possible advantage of teledermatology and perhaps telemedicine in general because it might offer a solution for dealing with an increasing number of demanding patients," the authors conclude.

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