Acne Patients Get Follow-Up Care via Internet

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If you are an acne patient, your follow-up visits could be done via the Internet over a secure Web site. Without leaving the comfort of your home, dorm room, office, or backyard, your dermatologist could monitor your skin care just as effectively over the Internet as he or she could with an office visit.

Approximately 40 to 50 million Americans have acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, and 85 percent of teenagers experience the skin disorder. Although everyone who has acne does not seek treatment, many people do. The authors of a new report published in the April issue of Archives of Dermatology note that with the growing demand for doctor visits and a worsening shortage of health care providers in many specialties, including dermatology, it is getting harder for dermatologists to meet the challenges “such as an increase in skin cancer and a work force that is not equally distributed geographically.”

A possible solution may be at the acne patient’s fingertips. Investigators at the Center for Connected Health, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School compared the quality of care provided by online visits and office visits. A total of 151 patients (mean age, 28 years) with mild to moderate acne were enrolled in the study: 74 were assigned to perform their four follow-up visits using a secure Web site and 77 were assigned to make four actual visits to their dermatologists’ office. All but five of the 30 patients who did not complete the study were lost to follow-up.

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The patients who carried out the Internet visits sent three digital images of their skin (three different angles), answered disease-specific questions via a secure Web site, and sent this information to their dermatologist every six weeks. The dermatologists reviewed the information and responded to their patients within three days with advice and electronic prescriptions.

An evaluation of the 121 patients who completed the study showed that the decline in inflammatory lesions was similar between the two groups, and that both the patients and their doctors were satisfied with the level of care regardless of the type of visit. The dermatologists spent a similar amount of time with their patients whether they saw them in person (4 minutes, 8 seconds) or conducted their evaluation and response via the Internet (4 minutes, 42 seconds).

The authors of the study noted that their findings “suggest that dermatologists obtain sufficient information from digital images and survey responses to make appropriate management decisions in the treatment of acne.” This form of telemedicine appears to be a win-win for patients and physicians: patients do not have to worry about traveling to the office, patients can send the information at their convenience, and physicians can review and respond at theirs.

Follow-up care via the Internet for acne patients seems to be a viable endeavor, and the authors believe this care model could be expanded to other dermatological and nondermatological situations.

SOURCES:
American Academy of Dermatology
Watson AJ et al. A randomized trial to evaluate the efficacy of online follow-up visits in the management of acne. Arch Dermatol 2010; 146(4): 406-11.

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