With every challenge comes opportunity. As we reimagine the future of dermatology in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must remain focused on discovering new efficiencies, many of which can be accomplished by automating a large part of our routine.
The Future of Communication
The future of communication with our patients may involve some buffers—whether a sneeze guard at your check-in station or use of video conferencing services.
This starts with “zero-contact” check-in and payment options that allow patients to complete the necessary processes, including submitting payment remotely via HIPAA-secure platforms. Such platforms are already available and can be easily integrated. Virtual waiting areas, such as the parking lot, make sense, but they may not work in certain big cities like Manhattan. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests adding markings where necessary in your waiting room to help patients maintain appropriate social distance as well as reducing chairs to discourage crowding.
Teledermatology is here to stay. We have learned that many of our patients can be triaged or treated via video and that patients are satisfied and prefer such care in many instances.
This new paradigm may include hiring an outpatient dermatology virtualist to make certain diagnoses, design initial treatment plans via telemedicine, and refer patients for biopsy or further work-up as needed. A virtualist can log in from home for at least a few days a week and assess patients. This also helps reduce waiting room crowding, which will go a long way toward easing patient anxiety about coming into the office, given their justifiable COVID-19 fears.
I described this concept at length in the June 2020 issue of Practical Dermatology® magazine, now available online (practicaldermatology.com/issues/2020-june).
AI in the Post-COVID-19 World
Artificial or augmented intelligence will also help advance teledermatology.
With this technology, images will be compared via algorithms to let us know with pinpoint accuracy if a growth is benign or needs further evaluation. Machines won’t replace us, but this will be another way for us to provide care while minimizing face-to-face contact. Dermatologists will always need to provide the human touch as they explain next steps to the patient based on the digital diagnoses.
Don’t Fear Technology
For years, many of us feared technology as it put distance between us and our patients. After all, what would an electronic medical record (EMR) do to the all-important doctor-patient relationship? Would we be too busy looking at the screen and ticking off boxes to really connect and make a differential diagnosis?
That was the fear, but the rules have changed. Now we’re in the era of social distancing, so it’s time to embrace EMRs and other technologies that make it safer for us to do our jobs. This will help us be responsible in the COVID-19 era, as well as create new efficiencies in terms of billing and coding.
We have the tools, the knowledge, and the know-how. Let’s use them to reimagine the future of how we practice.