Tips from board-certified dermatologists
Consumer demand for virtual health care has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to telemedicine, patients with new concerns and those with chronic conditions can have an appointment with a board-certified physician from the comfort and safety of their homes. According to dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology — a specialty with more than two decades of experience in telemedicine — even after the pandemic subsides, the convenience and efficiency of virtual health care visits means telemedicine is here to stay.
“Telemedicine is a wonderful way to connect with your physician, especially for busy families, those with demanding work schedules, and those who live in remote areas,” says board-certified dermatologist Jennifer David, DO, MBA, FAAD, who founded her own virtual dermatology practice. “However, just as you would prepare for an in-person doctor’s visit, it’s important to spend a few minutes preparing for a virtual visit in order to make your appointment as valuable and useful as it can be.”
To help patients get the most out of their telemedicine appointments, Dr. David recommends the following tips:
1. Before your appointment, contact your insurance provider to find out if your plan covers telemedicine appointments. Many insurance providers have updated their plans to cover telemedicine visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s important to find out what type of telemedicine visits are covered and who can deliver them — such as your dermatologist or someone specified by your insurance provider.
2. Gather essential medical information. This is especially important if you have a telemedicine appointment with a doctor you haven’t seen before. Knowing your medical history will help your doctor make a diagnosis, decide treatment options and prescribe medicine, if necessary. Ask your doctor’s office if they have any forms you need to fill out before your appointment.
In addition, make a list of the following before your appointment:
- Medications you take
- Major illnesses or surgeries you have had
- Previous health problems
- When your current symptoms began
- Your allergies
- Previous health problems or illnesses that your family members have had, such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes
You will also want to ask your doctor’s office what type of telemedicine visit will be conducted and how:
- For video visits, you will be sent a website link to connect at the time of your visit.
- For telephone visits, you may be given instructions on when to expect a call from your doctor.
- For visits through photos only, contact your doctor’s office to find out when and how to send your pictures. You may also be asked to send photos for video and telephone visits.
3. Write down any questions you may have. Doing this before your appointment helps you remember everything you plan to talk to your doctor about and make the most of your appointment.
4. Take pictures. If your concern is something that can be seen on the skin, hair or nails, take clear pictures of the area(s) you need examined. Just like an in-person doctor’s appointment, if you need to have your face or nails examined, remember to remove all make-up or nail polish before taking any pictures. Regardless of how your virtual appointment is conducted (video, telephone, etc.), it can be very helpful to send photos of your skin to your doctor. Your doctor may provide you with instructions to send photos.
To take pictures in the highest-possible quality, follow these tips:
- Make sure your pictures are well lit. Whenever possible, take your pictures in natural light. If natural light isn’t possible, use another light source, such as a book light or flashlight. Be mindful of shadows or glare on the area(s) of interest.
- Take multiple pictures, including one of each side of the area(s) you need examined. Make sure to show the entire body part where the affected area is present.
- Take pictures to compare. For example, if you have a spot on your hand, take pictures of both hands so your doctor can see how that area usually looks. Make sure you also take a close-up and far-away picture of all areas involved so your doctor can compare.
- Get help. If you live with someone, ask them to take pictures of hard-to-reach areas, like the back. If you live alone, use a mirror to make sure you are taking pictures of the right spot.
- If your picture turns out blurry, delete and retake it, as a clear picture is critical for an accurate exam.
5. Avoid irritating your skin before your appointment. Try to avoid doing things that could change the appearance of your skin before your telemedicine appointment. Some examples of things to avoid before your appointment include taking a hot shower, rubbing or picking at your skin, or applying skin care products.
6. Find a quiet and private space to have your appointment. Make sure you can connect to the internet in that space and minimize any distractions, such as background noise. If your concern is something visible, make sure the space has the best lighting possible.
“While telemedicine can’t always replace an in-person visit with your dermatologist, it can help in times when you can’t get to their office,” says Dr. David. “After your appointment, depending on your condition, your dermatologist may schedule another appointment with you — either in-person or another telemedicine appointment — to see if your condition is improving. Make sure to keep any follow-up appointments that your dermatologist recommends in order to stay healthy.”
These tips are demonstrated in “How to Prepare for a Telemedicine Visit,” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails.
To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area who offers telemedicine appointments, visit aad.org/findaderm and do an advanced search for “teledermatology” as the practice focus.