Shirley Maki’s palmoplantar psoriasis became so painful last winter that she eventually had to take medical leave. She had an appointment with a dermatologist, but it took over six months to get in – Shirley had to stop work long before then. Going away for treatment wasn’t really an option in this case either since there is a shortage of dermatologists all over Ontario.
But Shirley was able to get treatment much, much faster thanks to a new Teledermatology Program at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre offered through the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN). Shirley, herself an OR nurse at the Health Sciences Centre, first heard about the Teledermatology Program from a fellow nurse.
“My GP didn’t actually know about telederm,” Shirley said. “So, I told her about it and she filled out the paperwork immediately. I had my appointment the same day that Carrie (Haugenes, a Registered Nurse with the Teledermatology Program) called me.”
Telemedicine has been a tremendous help to patients in general. Thanks to this technology, patients referred to specialists outside of their home community can “see” them via videoconference, saving the time and expense of travelling for a 15-minute appointment.
In the case of dermatology patients, Telemedicine is proving to be even more helpful, reducing wait times dramatically from months to usually within five days. In some instances, results are returned overnight. Obviously, that’s important for life-threatening conditions such as skin cancer. For patients with other painful skin conditions, the wait can literally be excruciating.
Shirley said that the new Teledermatology Program was easy to access – and very fast.
“It was great! Carrie took some pictures on a Friday and she got the results back the following Monday, which she faxed over to my GP,” she said. That meant Shirley could start treatment right away, providing relief for her symptoms. She kept her appointment to see Dr. John Kraft with the travelling clinic, which became almost a follow-up appointment. He was able to change Shirley’s treatment a bit to reduce side effects.
Teledermatology will never replace face-to-face visits with a dermatologist. However, once a condition has been diagnosed by a dermatologist, many patients can be treated by their own family physicians. This reduces the workload on dermatologists in Ontario and ultimately improves patient care. If it turns out patients need more specialized care, they can continue to see their dermatologist directly.
“The dermatologists are very good about attaching additional information about the skin condition and the medication they are recommending so that the referring doctor and the patient both have plenty of resources for the best treatment possible,” Haugenes said.
Physicians and patients can find out more about the Teledermatology Program by contacting the Telemedicine Department directly at (807) 684-6711.