Complex skin conditions often require the specialized care of a dermatologist. However due to the shortage of dermatologists in Ontario, it can take six months or more to see one. In Northwestern Ontario, the situation became worse when our only dermatologist retired in 2015.
That’s when Trina Diner, Manager of Palliative Care and Telemedicine at the Health Sciences Centre, heard about the Ontario Telemedicine Network’s (OTN) Teledermatology Program, which promised to help patients get treatment faster.
“I learned about it from a Telemedicine nurse in Terrace Bay who is doing this with her Family Health Team,” Diner said.
Any doctor or nurse practitioner (NP) can refer to the Teledermatology Program, just as they would any other specialist referral. Carrie Haugenes, a Registered Nurse with the program, calls the patient in for an appointment. During the visit, she takes pictures and asks a list of pre-determined questions about the patient’s condition. Once submitted via the secure OTN network, the dermatologist reviews the photos and the patient’s answers, then e-mails the report back to Haugenes, who forwards it on to the referring physician/NP and primary care provider (if not the same person).
The real difference between this service and a face-to-face appointment with a dermatologist is speed. In Ontario – not just Thunder Bay – dermatological appointments are booked months in advance. On the other hand, referrals through the Teledermatology program can happen the same day in some cases.
“If the patient can come that day, sometimes it’s, ‘Yes, great, see you in an hour.’ If I have the availability, why not?” Haugenes said.
Referring clinicians are impressed by the speed as well. “I’ve made several referrals and have been impressed with the turnaround time,” said Dr. Margaret Woods, Chief of General & Family Practice at the Health Sciences Centre. “Feedback from patients has been extremely positive. It’s a simple, smooth process that results in immediate treatment recommendations for patients. Dr. Anatoli Freiman at the Toronto Dermatology Clinic is providing a much needed service for physicians/NPs and family physicians.”
From January 2016 when the program started to June 30, there have been 64 Teledermatology consults. However, the number of consults continues to grow month after month as more doctors learn about the service.
“That’s what we’re doing now – promoting it among physicians and NPs,” Haugenes said.
Meanwhile, patients in Thunder Bay can still book a face-to-face consultation with visiting dermatologists who travel to Thunder Bay every one to three months for clinics.
“This service isn’t designed to replace dermatologists, but it does help get faster consults so that the patients who need specialist care can get it,” Diner said.
Physicians, NPs, and patients can find out more about the Teledermatology Program by contacting the Telemedicine Department directly at (807) 684-6711.