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The birth of U.S. military teledermatology

Dermatologists launch the country’s first robust telemedicine project during their years in the U.S. Army.

Dr. Pak's story

SkinSerious dermatologist, Hon Pak, MD, FAAD, MBA
Hon Pak, MD, FAAD, MBA, Former Chief Information Officer, U.S. Army Medical Department
In the 1990s, there were no dermatologists to be found among military personnel deployed to Bosnia. Instead, the surgeons and primary care physicians on the ground took photos of rashes and other skin conditions and sent them to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for dermatology consultations.

It was an unsophisticated operation that involved printing emailed photos, walking a folder to the dermatology clinic, writing down the dermatologist’s assessment, carrying it back to a computer, and retyping it in an email back to Bosnia. I was a resident at Walter Reed at the time and was inspired to develop a platform to make the process more efficient.

Telemedicine has made significant progress since then. Working alongside my dermatology colleague Dr. Darryl Hodson, we launched a full-scale teledermatology program within the U.S. Army in 2000 that serves deployed soldiers abroad along with service members and their families across the United States. To date, we’ve completed more than 50,000 consultations in more than 50 countries.

Getting to this point has taken significant work beyond developing the platform itself. We hired telehealth coordinators with formal training, purchased standardized cameras, and taught the coordinators how to take photos for dermatology consults. Dr. Hodson put a lot of work into building relationships with primary care providers by holding in-person discussions and educational forums.

The military has a few distinct advantages when it comes to telemedicine. Military physicians aren’t bound by state-by-state licensing requirements and don’t need to worry about telemedicine reimbursement because they are salaried. There are also many lessons applicable to civilian telemedicine operations, especially given that many communities lack specialist physicians, including how to train clinicians in telemedicine, leveraging coordinators, and the importance of building personal relationships behind the technology. Technology allows us to provide more people with the expert care they need.

The birth of U.S. military teledermatology

Learn how board-certified dermatologists and veterans Drs. Hon Pak and Darryl Hodson launched the country’s first robust teledermatology project during their years in the U.S. Army.

Dr. Hodson's perspective

SkinSerious dermatologist, Darryl Hodson, MD, FAAD

“Sometimes you get lucky, and I was lucky to get to be part of the inception of this program. Telemedicine helps the military health care system address service members’ health needs regardless of their location, so they are well enough to do their jobs effectively. It also reminds deployed soldiers there is a network of medical support they can rely on. You don’t understand how isolating it is to be deployed abroad until you’re there.

The military also provides health care to a vast network of military families, many of whom live in remote areas in the U.S. There aren’t enough dermatologists or other specialists to have one at every base. The Army’s telemedicine program ensures military families get the expert care they need, when they need it.

I am incredibly proud of this program’s lasting positive influence on the lives of my fellow service members and their families.”

─ Darryl Hodson, MD, FAAD, Dermatologist, Georgia Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center, Former Chief of Teledermatology, U.S. Army

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