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As virtual heath care visits soar amid the coronavirus outbreak, dermatologists share tips to help patients manage their appointment

Dermatology is one of the few medical specialties that has been at the forefront of telemedicine

ROSEMONT, Ill. (April 16, 2020) — As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the country, telemedicine visits — which allow patients to have an appointment with their doctor from the comfort and safety of their homes — are skyrocketing. This has created unique challenges for both patients and doctors alike as medicine quickly adapts to health care appointments via video conferencing, sending photos, and other virtual tools. This is why dermatologists — a specialty with more than two decades of experience in telemedicine — are stepping up to share tips to help patients across all medical specialties get the most out of their telemedicine appointments.

“Dermatologists have been using telehealth since the 1990s as a way to provide specialized care to patients in rural and underserved areas of the U.S.,” says board-certified dermatologist Bruce H. Thiers, MD, FAAD, president of the AAD. “Currently, we’re seeing telemedicine hit unprecedented levels during the pandemic as it enables physicians to care for their patients while keeping them safe and conserving personal protective equipment, including masks, gowns and gloves. During this public health emergency, our top priority is ensuring that patients continue to receive safe, high-quality access to health care, and telemedicine is a great way to achieve that.”

Board-certified dermatologist Carrie L. Kovarik, MD, FAAD, a member of the AAD’s Ad Hoc Task Force on COVID-19, echoes Dr. Thiers, adding that telemedicine will likely continue to serve patients long after the pandemic is over.

“Dermatologists have long been considered pioneers in telemedicine due to the visible nature of skin, hair and nail conditions,” says Dr. Kovarik. “However, amid the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures, telemedicine has expanded across numerous medical fields and specialties and become critical to maintaining the health of Americans. As dermatologists, we feel compelled to share what we’ve learned throughout the years to help patients navigate these changes and stay their healthiest during a time of great uncertainty and beyond.”

A telemedicine appointment with your doctor could include:

  • A video conference.

  • A telephone call.

  • Sending your physician information — such as pictures of your condition and written descriptions — through your medical record, patient portal or email.

To help patients get the most out of their telemedicine appointments, Dr. Thiers and Dr. Kovarik recommend the following tips:

1. Before your appointment, contact your insurance provider to find out if your plan covers telemedicine appointments. Many insurance providers are updating their plans to cover telemedicine visits during the coronavirus pandemic. However, it’s important to find out what type of telemedicine visits are covered and who can deliver them — such as your dermatologist or someone specified by your insurance provider.

2. Gather essential information. This is especially important if you have a telemedicine appointment with a doctor you haven’t seen before. Knowing your medical history will help your doctor make a diagnosis, decide treatment options and prescribe medicine, if necessary. Ask your doctor’s office if they have any forms you need to fill out before your appointment.

In addition, make a list of the following before your appointment:

  • Medications you take

  • Major illnesses or surgeries you have had

  • Previous health problems

  • When your current symptoms began

  • Your allergies

  • Previous health problems or illnesses that your family members have had, such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes

You will also want to ask your doctor’s office what type of telemedicine visit will be conducted and how:

  • For video visits, you will be sent a website link to connect at the time of your visit.

  • For telephone visits, you may be sent instructions on when to expect a call from your doctor.

  • For visits through photos only, contact your doctor’s office to find out when and how to send your pictures. You may also be asked to send photos for video and telephone visits.

3. Write down any questions you may have. Doing this before your appointment helps you remember everything you plan to talk to your doctor about and make the most of your appointment.

4. Take pictures. If your concern is something that can be seen on the skin, hair or nails, take clear pictures of the area(s) you need examined. Just like an in-person doctor’s appointment, if you need to have your face or nails examined, remember to remove all make-up or nail polish before taking any pictures.

To take pictures in the highest-possible quality, follow these tips:

  • Make sure your pictures are well lit. Whenever possible, take your pictures in natural light. If natural light isn’t possible, use another light source, such as a book light or flashlight. Be mindful of shadows or glare on the area(s) of interest.

  • Take multiple pictures, including one of each side of the area(s) you need examined. Make sure to show the entire body part where the affected area is present.

  • Take pictures to compare. For example, if you have a spot on your hand, take pictures of both hands so your doctor can see how that area usually looks. Make sure you also take a close-up and far-away picture of all areas involved so your doctor can compare.

  • Get help. If you live with someone, ask them to take pictures of hard-to-reach areas, like the back. If you live alone, use a mirror to make sure you are taking pictures of the right spot.

  • If your picture turns out blurry, delete and retake it, as a clear picture is critical for an accurate exam.

5. Avoid irritating your skin before your appointment. Try to avoid doing things that could change the appearance of your skin before your telemedicine appointment. Some examples of things to avoid before your appointment include taking a hot shower, rubbing or picking at your skin, or applying skin care products.

6. Find a quiet and private space to have your appointment. Make sure you can connect to the internet in that space and minimize any distractions, such as background noise. If your concern is something visible, make sure the space has the best lighting possible.

“Telemedicine is a valuable lifeline in times like these,” says Dr. Kovarik. “Whether you need to maintain treatment for a chronic condition or you have a new concern, contact your doctor to see if telemedicine is right for you. By receiving care virtually instead of in person, you can stay safe and help slow the spread of the coronavirus.”

For more information about the coronavirus, including how to protect yourself, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov/coronavirus.

To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.

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Nicole Dobkin, (847) 240-1746, ndobkin@aad.org

More Information
Telemedicine Overview
Coronavirus Resource Center
Dry Skin Relief from COVID-19 Handwashing

About the AAD
Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 20,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow the AAD on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology), Twitter (@AADskin), Instagram (@AADskin1), or YouTube (AcademyofDermatology).