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Free teledermatology clinic helps underserved patients initiate AD care


A teledermatology clinic program established in Ward 8 of Washington, D.C., to help residents learn about and initiate care for atopic dermatitis (AD) has garnered high patient satisfaction marks and may serve as a model for similar clinics in other underserved areas in the United States.

Washington, D.C., has “staggering health disparities that are among the largest in the country,” and Ward 8 and surrounding areas in the southeastern part of the city are “dermatology deserts,” said Adam Friedman, MD, professor and chair of dermatology at George Washington University, Washington, who started the program in 2021 with a pilot project. Dr. Friedman spoke about the project, which has since been expanded to include alopecia areata, at the Revolutionizing Atopic Dermatitis conference in April and in an interview after the meeting.

Dr. Adam Friedman, professor and interim chief of dermatology, George Washington University, Washington

Dr. Adam Friedman

Patients who attend the clinics – held at the Temple of Praise Church in a residential area of Ward 8, a predominantly Black community with a 30% poverty rate – are entered into the GW Medical Faculty Associates medical records system and educated on telemedicine best practices (such as not having light behind them during a session) and how to use telemedicine with their own device.

Those with AD who participate learn about the condition through an image-rich poster showing how it appears in various skin tones, handouts, National Eczema Association films, and discussion with medical students who staff the clinics under Dr. Friedman’s on-site supervision. Participants with alopecia areata similarly can view a poster and converse about the condition.

Patients then have a free 20-minute telehealth visit with a GWU dermatology resident in a private room, and a medical student volunteer nearby to assist with the technology if needed. They leave with a treatment plan, which often includes prescriptions, and a follow-up telemedicine appointment.

The program “is meant to be a stepping point for initiating care ... to set someone up for success for recurrent telehealth visits in the future” and for treatment before symptoms become too severe, Dr. Friedman said in an interview. “We want to demystify telemedicine and educate on the disease state and dispel myths ... so the patient understands why it’s happening” and how it can be treated.

An image-rich poster is among the learning materials used to teach participants at the GW teledermatology clinic about atopic dermatitis, with help from medical students. Dr. Adam Friedman

A poster is among the learning materials used to teach participants at the GW teledermatology clinic about atopic dermatitis, with help from medical students.

The pilot project, funded with a grant from Pfizer, involved five 2-hour clinics held on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., that together served almost 50 adult and pediatric patients. Grants from Pfizer and Eli Lilly enabled additional clinics in the spring of 2023 and into the summer. And in June, GWU and Pfizer announced a $1 million national grant program focused on broad implementation of what they’ve coined the “Teledermatology Help Desk Clinic” model.

Practices or organizations that secure grants will utilize GWU’s experience and meet with an advisory council of experts in dermatology telemedicine and community advocacy. Having a “long-term plan” and commitment to sustainability is an important element of the model, said Dr. Friedman, who is chairing the grant program.


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