Teledermatology is an effective patient care model for the delivery of high-quality dermatologic care.1 Teledermatology can occur using synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid models of care. In asynchronous visits (AVs), patients or health professionals submit photographs and information for dermatologists to review and provide treatment recommendations. With synchronous visits (SVs), patients have a visit with a dermatology health professional in real time via live video conferencing software. Hybrid models incorporate asynchronous strategies for patient intake forms and skin photograph submissions as well as synchronous methods for live video consultation in a single visit.1 However, remarkable inequities in internet access limit telemedicine usage among medically marginalized patient populations, including racialized, elderly, and low socioeconomic status groups.2
Synchronous visits, a relatively newer teledermatology format, allow for communication with dermatology professionals from the convenience of a patient’s selected location. The live interaction of SVs allows dermatology professionals to answer questions, provide treatment recommendations, and build therapeutic relationships with patients. Concerns for dermatologist reimbursement, malpractice/liability, and technological challenges stalled large-scale uptake of teledermatology platforms.3 The COVID-19 pandemic led to a drastic increase in teledermatology usage of approximately 587.2%, largely due to public safety measures and Medicaid reimbursement parity between SV and in-office visits (IVs).3,4
With the implementation of SVs as a patient care model, we investigated the demographics of patients who utilized SVs, AVs, or IVs, and we propose strategies to promote equity in dermatologic care access.
This study was approved by the University of Pittsburgh institutional review board (STUDY20110043). We performed a retrospective electronic medical record review of deidentified data from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a tertiary care center in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, with an established asynchronous teledermatology program. Hybrid SVs were integrated into the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center patient care visit options in March 2020. Patients were instructed to upload photographs of their skin conditions prior to SV appointments. The study included visits occurring between July and December 2020. Visit types included SVs, AVs, and IVs.
We analyzed the initial dermatology visits of 17,130 patients aged 17.5 years and older. Recorded data included diagnosis, age, sex, race, ethnicity, and insurance type for each visit type. Patients without a reported race (990 patients) or ethnicity (1712 patients) were excluded from analysis of race/ethnicity data. Patient zip codes were compared with the zip codes of Allegheny County municipalities as reported by the Allegheny County Elections Division.
Statistical Analysis—Descriptive statistics were calculated; frequency with percentage was used to report categorical variables, and the mean (SD) was used for normally distributed continuous variables. Univariate analysis was performed using the χ2 test for categorical variables. One-way analysis of variance was used to compare age among visit types. Statistical significance was defined as P<.05. IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 24 (IBM Corp) was used for all statistical analyses.
In our study population, 81.2% (13,916) of patients were residents of Allegheny County, where 51.6% of residents are female and 81.4% are older than 18 years according to data from 2020.5 The racial and ethnic demographics of Allegheny County were 13.4% African American/Black, 0.2% American Indian/Alaska Native, 4.2% Asian, 2.3% Hispanic/Latino, and 79.6% White. The percentage of residents who identified as Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander was reported to be greater than 0% but less than 0.5%.5