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Get the Truth About Online Doctors' Visits for Psoriasis

Updated on March 11, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Joan Grossman

Online doctor visits — also called telehealth or telemedicine — can be an innovative and convenient part of health care for people with psoriasis. Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease caused by disorders in the immune system. It requires ongoing care to prevent and manage recurring flares.

Through online visits, people with psoriasis can access dermatologists and other doctors by smartphone or computer while at home or at any other location. For people in rural or underserved areas, telehealth can provide regular access to medical care that might otherwise require excessive travel. But even where doctors are accessible, telemedicine can save time and money while maintaining high-quality care and increasing access to specialists.

Telemedicine for psoriasis has been found to be as effective as in-person visits for monitoring and improving symptoms, providing education about the condition, reviewing and refilling medication, and assessing treatment plans.

What Is Telehealth?

First and foremost, it’s important to know that telehealth services are not intended to replace needed in-person care. Telehealth encompases a range of medical services that can be provided through electronic communication and information technology, like computers, electronic notepads, tablets, and cellphones. Clinical services may feature audio, video, electronically shared files, text, and wearable devices that can monitor symptoms and send data back to health care providers.

Telehealth and telemedicine are the most common terms for clinical services provided through electronic devices, but terms like teleconsultation, telemonitoring, and televisit may also be used. Telemedicine can include synchronous — live chat — services or asynchronous services.

Asynchronous telemedicine for psoriasis often uses a process called store-and-forward (SAF), where primary care physicians (PCPs) may also be involved. PCPs or people with psoriasis can send images and case information to dermatologists. Photographs, messages, diagnoses, treatment plans, and other information can be shared online and accessed at any time. Asynchronous telemedicine, especially, has expanded during the Covid-19 pandemic for psoriasis and other dermatological conditions.

Many people have used telemedicine for the first time this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite its growing popularity, a number of misconceptions persist.

Myth 1: “I’m not good with technology, so I can’t have an online appointment.”

While some people may feel uncomfortable with technology, the fact is that technology is increasingly a daily part of most people’s lives. According to the Pew Research Center, 81 percent of Americans now own smartphones, and nearly 75 percent own personal computers.

In the U.S., people are now using video chat features — like FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype — in record numbers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, video chat usage has risen by 38 percent. Now 6 in 10 people in the U.S. rely on video chat services for work or to connect with friends and family. There are many user-friendly video chat platforms available for medical visits. In some cases, health care providers may use a service you’re already familiar with.

Video chat is often no more complicated than making a phone call. If you have never used a video chat platform, ask a friend, family member, or colleague to show you how easy it can be. You can also ask someone to do a test with you the day before you have your first telemedicine appointment, to be sure you’re feeling confident.

Myth 2: “I won't get much out of an online visit.”

When using telemedicine for skin conditions, such as psoriasis, photographs of skin inflammation are typically submitted for diagnostic purposes. Studies have shown that photographs produced diagnoses that are comparable to those conducted by in-person medical visits. Even modest cameras, such as smartphone cameras, can provide enough detail for reliable assessment of the disease.

In a 12-month study of 296 participants specifically with psoriasis — half received in-person care and half received online, asynchronous care — telemedicine was found to provide equal standards of care and improved outcomes. Asynchronous and store-and-forward telehealth services can also help make collaboration between PCPs, dermatologists, and other specialists faster and more efficient, because images and case information can be readily shared.

Telemedicine consultations can provide essential services, such as:

  • Diagnosis of disease activity
  • Review of symptoms and drug side effects
  • Review of psoriasis treatment plans
  • Refills of medications

Another significant finding in a review of more than 1,000 telemedicine consultations was that, while standards of care were equivalent, telehealth services provided much quicker review of cases. Images and case information were reviewed by dermatologists in an average of 2.17 days, while in-person visits took an average of 90 days from when appointments were made.

Telehealth can also save time and money when it comes to travel time, gas, and parking for doctor visits. There may be additional savings in child care and lost work hours due to medical visits.

Myth 3: “Telehealth limits my options for health care.”

Telemedicine supports needed in-person care rather than replacing it. Telehealth not only provides many of the same services in-person care provides, particularly for follow-up visits, it can also expand access to care.

Psoriasis is associated with a higher risk for heart disease, gastrointestinal conditions, kidney disease, infection, psoriatic arthritis, and mood disorders, among other comorbidities. People with psoriasis often need regular access to specialists to manage their health conditions, and telehealth visits can help facilitate this essential specialty care.

Telehealth services can also be helpful when pain, discomfort, or flares make traveling to a doctor’s office uncomfortable. Telemedicine can also improve access to mental health clinicians, nutritionists, and physical therapists.

Myth 4: “Virtual appointments aren't secure.”

Everyone is naturally concerned about privacy when it comes to personal health issues, health records, and doctor-patient confidentiality. Cybersecurity for telehealth is a reasonable concern, and the health care industry is taking precautions to make sure telemedicine can be safe and secure.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has responded to concerns about security and electronic protected health information, including telemedicine, as these services have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. HHS believes safeguards are available for telemedicine, and urges health care providers to use third-party platforms that encrypt transmissions of data and communications.

Despite the medical industry taking serious precautions to protect privacy, breaches of security can happen. Before transmitting highly sensitive information, images, or documents, you might want to call your provider and discuss your concerns about security. Phone calls and encrypted texting platforms are sometimes the safest option.

Good Communication Is Good for Your Health

Online doctor appointments open new avenues of communication in health care. But to be truly effective, it’s essential to communicate openly and honestly with your doctor. Telemedicine relies on people reporting symptoms and concerns in a straightforward and detailed way. Telehealth will never replace the need for in-person visits with doctors, but it offers exciting new opportunities to enhance care.

Join a Supportive Community

At MyPsoriasisTeam you can share experiences with more than 85,000 people who are managing symptoms and treatments for psoriasis. Share experiences, ask questions, or meet other people who are learning about telemedicine.

Have you had an online doctor visit? How was your experience? Add your comments below, or go to MyPsoriasisTeam and start a new conversation today.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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