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Significant Adoption of Teledermatology Observed in Academic Settings

The study suggested that dermatologists in academic settings were more likely to utilize teledermatology prior to the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic as well.

A new investigation into the usage of telemedicine in the dermatology space found that the practice had significantly affected dermatology care across the US , though its prevalence varied depending on the location.

Additionally, the study suggested that dermatologists in academic settings were more likely to utilize teledermatology long before the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite this, the pandemic had forced dermatology practices across the United States to adopt teledermatology to continue patient care from a distance. Several studies from 2020 detailed the perceptions of teledermatology by dermatologists, which included ease of use, quality, and barriers to implementation.

With the present study, a team of investigators led by Darrell S. Rigel, MD, MS, Mt. Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, provided an update on the current state of teledermatology and how perceptions evolved among dermatologists after expanded use in 2021.

The study population consisted entirely of dermatologists.

Following instrument validation, investigators sent anonymous surveys via email in April 2021 to a proprietary listserv of actively practicing dermatologists and other US dermatologists who practiced within 3 years of the survey.

Responses from participating dermatologists were analyzed based on years in practice, practice type, and location, and chi-square tests were performed to assess statistical significance.

In total, 338 dermatologists participated in the survey, representing a myriad of different practice settings, experiences, and geographic locations.

Investigators noted a significant difference in teledermatology use in 2020 based on practice settings, with a higher number of respondents from academic settings implementing the technology (P<0.001). However, no significant differences were observed across US regions (P= 0.313) or years in practice (P=0.110).

A statistically significant variation in teledermatology use was seen in January 2021, again with a higher rate of use among academic dermatologists, and dermatologists earlier in their careers were also significantly more likely to utilized teledermatology early into 2021 compared to those with tenure (P=0.016).

Investigators noted that no significant difference in teledermatology across the US was observed, despite significant geographic variation in pandemic severity across various time points in the year (P=0.083).

Additionally, when asked to predict future usage of teledermatology, estimations from dermatologists did not differ across US regions (P=0.403) or years in practice (P=0.119), though they did vary significantly based on practice setting (P=0.019).

Regarding limitations, image quality was commonly cited, and 25.7% of respondents reported no material barriers to further use.

Given the data culled from the survey responses, investigators found that dermatologists in academic settings were more likely to have utilized teledermatology before the pandemic and to be continuing its use in the year that followed. This was consistent with previous research.

They suggested several factors for the increase in teledermatology use including access to research and efforts for referral centers to expand care in rural areas.

“This study found that most dermatologists believe that teledermatology has become more prevalent in their practices, though the magnitude of its adaption may vary,” the team wrote. “Further research resulting in technologic advancements in image capture and economic incentives may help to overcome barriers to use.”

The study, "Usage and perceptions of teledermatology in 2021: a survey of dermatologists," was published online in the International Journal of Dermatology.