Teledermatology: Overcoming Geographical Barriers to Healthcare Delivery

The entry of digital technologies in the realm of healthcare has generated boundless opportunities for innovation in the healthcare industry. With the adoption of smartphones and other connected devices rapidly expanding worldwide, access to virtual platforms, especially in the telehealth domain, is improving at an unprecedented pace. According to Pew Research Center, for instance, of the 5 billion mobile phone owners across the globe, more than 2.5 billion are smartphone users. Virtual health platforms are, therefore, set to witness enormous demand, backed by the availability of cheap smartphones and low-cost data services by telecoms. 

Teledermatology, as a vital branch of the emergent telehealth industry, is gaining considerable momentum, with the global teledermatology market size expected to reach USD 44.86 billion by 2027 at a CAGR of 24.3%, according to a report by Fortune Business Insights™. Driven by the increasing prevalence of skin conditions and the introduction of advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), virtual dermatology solutions are poised to experience soaring popularity over the next decade. Augmenting the market’s growth trajectory to greater heights is the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How Are Dermatology Companies Leveraging Technology amid COVID-19?

The health-economic crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has erected monumental challenges for healthcare delivery. With coronavirus patients overwhelming health facilities around the world, medical aid to those suffering from critical illnesses has been falling short and proving to be inadequate. Digital health platforms have thus stepped in and are striving to bridge this widening gap. Dermatology care companies and organizations, too, are harnessing the power of digital technologies to deliver essential consultation services to patients in the midst of the current pandemic. In April 2020, for instance, SkinIO announced the launch of SkinIO Teledermatology, an inventive platform that enables dermatologists to capture high-quality images from patients to provide the best-in-class remote dermatological care. The platform can be used individually and independently or it can be used in conjunction with other telemedicine appointments in real-time. The Permanente Medical Group, an American Medical Association (AMA) Health System Program Partner, has found tremendous success in its teledermatology program, which has been in place in Northern California for 15 years. This program enabled Permanente to provide telemedicine services to patients amid the pandemic, with the organization now delivering almost 80% of outpatient care through video and telephone visits in Northern California. 

However, regardless of the current pandemic, teledermatology companies have been innovating and developing novel products and services for patients. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

MetaOptima and Sonic Healthcare Join Forces for Smart Dermatology

In October 2019, MetaOptima Technology Australia entered into an agreement with Australia-based Sonic Healthcare to rollout the DermEngine software across the IPN Family Medical Center and the Australian Skin Care Centers networks. A cloud-based solution, DermEngine has been designed to empower doctors enlisted under Sonic Healthcare with an intelligent dermatology ecosystem for the imaging, diagnosis, and documentation of skin conditions, including skin cancer. The platform is powered by AI and enables medical professionals to manage workflows and follow a targeted approach to enhance patient outcomes.

3Derm Receives Breakthrough Certifications from the FDA

3Derm Systems, a specialist in skin imaging, secured ‘Breakthrough Device’ designations from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in January 2020. The two certifications have been granted for 3DermSpot, a high-quality image capturing solution that uses an AI-enabled algorithm to automatically detect basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. For securing the Breakthrough tag for its smart dermatology solution, 3Derm effectively demonstrated the potential of 3DermSpot in diagnosing life-threatening and debilitating skin diseases. As a result, the solution is now the first autonomous AI device in the dermatology domain to bag the Breakthrough designation.

Teledermatology Startup Wins 2020 Irish Healthcare Awards 

DermView, a Dublin-based teledermatology platform that was started in 2018, won the 2020 Irish Healthcare Awards in the Best Use of Information Technology category. The startup focuses on improving the quality of skin images captured for delivering virtual dermatology services and ensuring precise diagnosis. Using DermView, a patient can first get checked by a general practitioner and is then referred to a clinic affiliated to DermView. At such a clinic, a nurse will take an image of the skin condition, lesion, or mole using the company’s solution.

Teladoc Health Strengthens Relationship with National Labor Alliance

New York-based Teladoc Health and the National Labor Alliance of Health Care Coalitions (NLAHCC) announced the deepening of their relationship in October 2020. The NLAHCC awarded Teladoc with an endorsed partner distinction, under which Teladoc will provide a broader array of telehealth services to the NLAHCC. The exclusive partnership will cover Teladoc’s virtual dermatology, mental health, and medical services and bring within its fold the NLAHCC’s six million members spread across the US. With this collaboration, Teladoc also intends to expand its offerings in the domain of critical care and at-home monitoring and bolster its position in the telemedicine industry.    

Limitations & the Road Ahead

While teledermatology has taken the healthcare industry by storm in the past few years, this technology faces a serious roadblock in the form of the digital divide that festers in most developing economies. The wide gap between the urban and rural populations, in terms of access to modern healthcare technologies and basic connectivity services, in countries such as India will inevitably limit the scope of this market. 

Nonetheless, the future prospects for teledermatology appear bright, especially in the current era when geriatric populations worldwide are rising. For example, the UN predicts that by 2050 the number of persons aged 60 years and above will be over 2 billion, or roughly one-fifth of the global population. Since old people find it difficult to make frequent visits to hospitals or clinics for their checkups, teledermatology can facilitate effective healthcare for such persons. Moreover, the utility of smart health platforms, experienced during the coronavirus pandemic, has instilled a substantial amount of faith in digital healthcare technologies among patients, which will further accelerate the adoption of teledermatology solutions.