In addition to daily sunscreen, teledermatology may be your skin’s best ally.
Skin troubles always seem to pop up when you need them least. Work conference tomorrow? Here’s an eczema flare. Going on a date with your crush? You can count on hormonal acne rearing its ugly head. Vacation mode activated? Enjoy this mystery rash!
Finding a dermatologist who takes your insurance, is accepting new patients, and has appointment availability can be a challenge—especially when time is of the essence. Telehealth dermatology (teledermatology, or simply telederm for short) might be skincare’s best-kept secret for getting a quick diagnosis and treatment plan without the hassle of an in-person appointment. “Teledermatology has actually been around for decades, and has proven to be effective” says Asha Patel Shah, MD, MBA, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist with Teladoc Health Medical Group. Its dermatology services offer professional diagnosis and treatment plans by a board-certified US dermatologist licensed in your state—all from the comfort of your home (or while you’re on the go). “It’s quite convenient and efficient,” says Dr. Shah.
Here are the basics and not-so-basics on using this service.
How it works
Telederm services can either be live—meaning you schedule an appointment for a specific date to video-chat with a provider—or conducted entirely through remote messaging, like Teladoc Health’s services. After providing information about your symptoms and the reason for your consultation on its secure app, you’ll then upload photos of the problem area from your phone. A dermatologist will make a diagnosis and send you a customized treatment plan, usually within 24 hours. Also, if it is necessary for you to have a prescription, it will be prescribed for you to pick up at your preferred pharmacy.
The power of images as a diagnostic tool
“Dermatologists are incredibly visual. This is a significant component of our training—studying and analyzing digital and print photos,” Dr. Shah explains. “As long as the photos are high-quality, which enables us to see the characteristics and distribution of the concern, this method of diagnosis is quite successful.”
Of course, if there are concerns that a particular lesion could be more severe or life-threatening, Dr. Shah recommends scheduling an in-person visit with a provider so they can examine the area with a special magnification scope (dermatoscope) that allows them to see the structural properties of the lesion. Severe burns and other traumas that are causing immediate pain should be brought to the urgent care or emergency room.
Getting the most out of telederm
To receive the best care from a telederm visit, provide as much information as possible about your condition. This means thoroughly answering the intake questions and uploading a handful of high-resolution, well-lit photos from various angles and at different magnifications. Don’t skimp on the details—the more information you give your doctor, the more primed they’ll be to accurately diagnose you.
Teladoc Health’s dermatology services can diagnose and treat a multitude of ailments. Below is a primer, created with Dr. Shah, on what to expect and prepare for when making a telederm consult for four of the most common skin issues:
Information you should be prepared to provide: Be precise in describing the location of your acne—face, chest, back, butt—and how long it’s been an issue. Also note the date of your last period, as your menstrual cycle can affect your acne.
“It’s helpful to know if the intensity of the acne is at all related with the menses, and if there’s a certain pattern on the face or torso,” Dr. Shah says. This can signal hormonal acne, which requires a different treatment plan.
Likely treatment plan: Your dermatologist may recommend a twice-a-day skincare regimen involving a specific over-the-counter or prescription cleanser and ointment. Depending on the cause of the acne, an oral medication may be prescribed as well.
When to opt for an in-person appointment: Acne is one of the best uses of teledermatology, Dr. Shah says, “because we as derms can easily recognize it in photos and generate a treatment plan that’s very safe to start online.” However, if your acne involves very large, painful lesions or textural scarring, it’s best to see a dermatologist in person.
Information you should be prepared to provide: Much as with the acne appointment, precisely describe the location of the eczema, the duration of the rash, and the severity. Also consider what might have triggered it. Have you recently switched detergent brands? Does it crop up after you eat certain foods? Do you notice it flaring up in certain weather? These are all helpful notes for your doctor.
Likely treatment plan: Eczema is often treated with topical prescription medication. Your personalized treatment plan should also outline a skincare regimen specifically aimed at preventing future eczema flares.
When to opt for an in-person appointment: If your eczema spreads or the rash becomes itchier, you should go in person, as this can lead to open wounds from scratching. In these cases, a provider will want to assess for infection.
Information you should be prepared to provide: Hives are a histamine response to an irritant, so you’ll want to list any possible materials or allergens you’ve been exposed to. Also, keep an eye on their location. Hives may disappear and pop up again in different locations. This differentiates them from bug bites, which stay put until they resolve.
Likely treatment plan: Hives are treated with oral antihistamines. Depending on their severity, your dermatologist may also prescribe a topical steroid to reduce inflammation and discomfort.
When to opt for an in-person appointment: Telederm is a fantastic resource for hives, Dr. Shah says, considering their acute and transient nature. In the two weeks you may have to wait to get an in-person appointment, they might disappear, she says. A quick telehealth diagnosis can halt the hives before they have a chance to increase in severity. However, if they persist for six weeks or longer, you should make an in-person appointment.
Information you should be prepared to provide: Location, severity, and duration are the key details to share, along with whether there’s any blistering.
“Blisters can indicate a more serious, second-degree type of burn,” Dr. Shah says. “And that guides us, as doctors, in how aggressive we need to be with treatment or an in-person referral.”
Likely treatment plan: Most sunburns can be treated at home with cool compresses, a topical anti-inflammatory cream, and over-the-counter pain relievers. If your sunburn is extremely uncomfortable, your provider may prescribe a topical steroid to help reduce inflammation.
When to opt for an in-person appointment: Seek immediate in-person treatment if you develop headaches or nausea, or begin feeling dizzy, as these symptoms may indicate sun poisoning. Multiple blisters causing abnormal pain—i.e., it’s painful to move—should be examined by a burn expert to ensure there isn’t deeper injury.