The challenges of dermatology today
One of the most dangerous aspects of skin cancer is that it can start out very silently. An actual skin tumour often looks like a mole that happens to change shape for some reason, but sometimes it doesn't rise up any alarm, it doesn't call your attention or alert you about something being odd. Some tumours even go unnoticed if they aren't on an area that you often see, like at the back of your body. And this can be very dangerous because some forms of skin cancer are very aggressive and develop rapidly, even spreading throughout your body without any signs on the surface. You can stop this process if you get proper treatment, but you will never get treatment if you don't get diangosed first. Early diagnosis in aggressive skin cancer can literally draw the line between living to tale the tale and not so much so.
Few people go to a routine dermatology check, especially those who live in isolated areas or far away from a clinic or hospital that provides dermatology services. Other big challenge to the access of population to dermatological healthcare is that the public system is often overloaded, and it's very difficult to get an appointment. Even if you manage to, chances are that you will have to wait for weeks for the date to come, and as you see, time can be a crucial factor when diagnosin skin cancer.
The Internet to the rescue
Online services are now an alternative to the traditional approach for dermatological care as well as other areas of medicine. The term telemedicine has been created and it is defined as all medical practices that are performed with physical separation between a doctor and a patient, through channels provided by technological development. Teledermatology is telemedicine applied to dermatology, and it has helped save many lives. It also helps relieve the public health system because it allows people to access these services without the need of a face-to-face appointment.
The way in which teledermatology works is quite simple. A patient sees a suspicious skin feature that is suspected to be skin cancer or any other skin condition, and takes a picture of it. A high resolution camera must be used, and illumination has to be proper so the feature is clearly and distinctly shot. Once this has been done, the picture(s) get sent to a dermatologist for an assessment. A doctor will diagnose the feature and decide whether or not the patient should go to a hospital for further exploration.
Since it is fast, cheap, comfortable and requires no face-to-face appointment, teledermatology expands access to healthcare to those who live far away from a hospital or have no means to trave all the way to get checked. Also, by revealing which patients should actually see a doctor face-to-face because there is a real possibility of them having a serious condition, teledermatology is increasing visits to dermatologists altogether, thus helping save many lives.
Teledermatology for all
Teledermatology is being accepted by many health systems, and new equipment has been developed in order to take HD pictures in two and three dimensions. However, direct-to-consumer teledermatology services are also a thing now, with websites offering diagnosis and prescription services with pictures you can send from your own camera or smartphone. Truth is, technology develops so fast that now we can take great photos, in high deffinition, with our everyday devices. In most cases, there is no need to have or buy special equipment. These online clinics offer the opinion of specialists on pictures you yourself take and send.
A wider broadband and faster connections with the Internet via wi-fi or satellital mobile networks allow us to send and receive big photos in high resolution quite quickly, so it is now possible for us to take good pictures from our smartphone and upload them, both via apps or a website. You can also access these services through a computer, and take the pictures with your phone or digital camera. These websites have clear instructions on how you should take those pictures, and sometimes they also include a list of questions that you should answer in order to provide the dermatologists with more insight on your symptoms, so they can make a more complete diagnosis.
It seems to be that telemedicine is here to stay, and teledermatology could be included among regular practices for doctors in many countires. In example, Practice Guidelines for Teledermatology have been written and published in the United States in order to guide doctors in the use and application of this new area of diagnosis.