In the age of social networking sites and the ubiquitous selfie, the field of teledermatology seems to have arrived.

Teledermatology, or the method of diagnosing a skin condition remotely by viewing images of the condition that are taken by a digital camera and sent to a dermatologist, seems to be working quite well.

A new study led by Misha Rosenbach, MD of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has tested out a teledermatology app with 50 triage adult patients, who have been admitted to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Of the patients studied, 48 percent had cancer, 34 percent were suffering from an immunosuppressive condition, 12 percent were suffering from heart failure, and 52 percent were on IV antibiotics.

These patients all needed consultations with dermatologists, and they were seen and evaluated separately by a dermatologist in person, and two other independent dermatologists via the teledermatology app which used a secure "store-and-forward' technology.

The app was developed through the efforts of Penn Medicine's teledermatology program, together with the American Academy of Dermatology. The initiative was co-led by Carrie Kovarik, MD, associate professor of Dermatology and William D. James, MD, professor of Dermatology and vice chair of the Department of Dermatology.

Through the use of the app by the patients studied, the researchers found that if the dermatologist who evaluated the patient in person recommended that the patient be seen on the same day, the teledermatologist concurred to this 90 percent of the time. In cases in which the in-person dermatologist has recommended a biopsy, the teledermatologist concurred about 95 percent of the time.

The dermatologists and the teledermatologists agreed with the diagnoses 82 percent of the time, and came to a partial agreement 88 percent of the time. These numbers are still within the standard variation that is expected between medical practitioners, which is an important indicator of a platform's reliability.

"A substantial agreement between in-person and teledermatology consultants in this study demonstrates the reliability and potential of this platform," said Dr. Rosenbach in a press release.

Teledermatology is not an entirely new method, since online consultations for dermatological patients have been conducted for several years already in the U.S. and some countries. A diagnostic app - or application - for dermatology has been available for smartphones for and has been put to good use by patients and dermatologists alike some time now. This new study only further supports the possibilities of teledermatology in the age of the selfie. It can spell convenience for both patients and dermatologists, and carries an important benefit for patients who live in rural communities and may not have easy access to medical personnel.

"Our study of this model demonstrated that teledermatology consultations are not only effective at distinguishing cases in need for an urgent consultation in a hospital environment, but can also streamline follow-up care for both patients and clinicians," said Dr. Kovarik. 

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