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Digital dermatology: A growing role for tech in skin disease care

Digital dermatology: A growing role for tech in skin disease care

Like many areas of healthcare, the challenges of the past two years have accelerated tech innovation within dermatology – leading to increasing digital collaboration with patients and research into new models of care for skin disease.

Dermatologists rapidly adapted their approach to support patients during the pandemic, and technology that was adopted out of necessity, is now leaving a lasting mark on the future of dermatology.

Research by the American Academy of Dermatology showed a surge in use of teledermatology - with 96.9% of dermatologists using it, compared to just 14.1% pre-COVID, according to its survey of members in 2020. It was a trend set to continue, with 58% of dermatologists saying they would continue to use teledermatology after the pandemic too.

Two years on, and the transformation happening within dermatology is clear. Technology is being tailored to the remote collaboration needs of dermatologists - and in a specialism where close monitoring of visual aspects of a condition is so important, the digital role is advancing.

The rise of consumer tech

From skin cancer to acne, skin-related diseases are prevalent. Two-in-three people have suffered from skin disease in their lifetime, according to the British Skin Foundation. In the UK alone, more than 100,000 new cases of skin cancer are reported each year, one-in-five children have eczema and there are a million people with psoriasis.

Consumer tech has stepped up and we are using machine learning, computer vision and augmented reality to enhance the capabilities of patients’ own tech. Most adults now come ready-equipped with the potential to instantly capture and share changes to their skin - and smartphone-friendly consumer versions of mole mapping, face tracking and full body imaging are making the process easier.

Tech is ready to play a more formal part in consultations and support research into new models of care. Couple this with the clinical demand for digital collaboration and the opportunity for innovation is on a growth trajectory.

Scope for innovation in dermatology

There has been a huge mindset shift within clinical teams. Healthcare providers flocked to video consultations to allow continuation of care, with well-known live-video-conferencing services coming to the aid of many dermatologists during the pandemic. However, the opportunity for technology has gone beyond the realms of video call solutions in dermatology. A major digital growth area is asynchronous technology, which allows the exchange of high-definition patient photos and other structured patient-reported information by store-and-forward (SAF) communication.

Asynchronous technology supports remote access to care and visual documentation of a skin condition. It can assist with prioritisation of care, drive efficiency within dermatology clinics, deliver patient engagement communication - and provide the bridge between consumer and clinical technology.

A digital focus in skin research

During 2021, Miiskin PRO teledermatology went live in the US to facilitate the use of the consumer AI-powered skin tracking app with a secure platform for dermatologists to collaborate with their patients. Uptake with clinics has been fast and the asynchronous technology is now being adapted to support academic researchers too.

With vital academic work happening around the world to stem the growth of skin disease, one of the current challenges for researchers is to find a digital health platform that can consistently gather and store their test subjects’ data in a secure and compliant way.

We were first approached by an academic research team in the US for a specialist melanoma care research project – and have now opened our platform for wider academic use by dermatology researchers and their research participants.

From an academic perspective, the platform can be used where skin tracking, and high quality self-captured skin images and structured information are required from patients taking part in research programmes. Digital interventions, such as health awareness messaging and clinical reminders, can also be delivered to patients via the app to support behaviour change.

As part of our long-term work to support advances in dermatology and digital health, we have made the technology freely available for academic research into conditions such as skin cancer, rosacea, acne, psoriasis, and eczema, as well as wound care.

While the prevalence of many skin diseases continues to grow, so too does the scope for technology to help. As the clinical approach to digital collaboration with patients evolves and research into new clinical models continue, the picture of skin disease care of the future is changing.