A California company that allows people in remote locations to use their smartphones to connect with dermatologists has received a $500,000 investment from the California HealthCare Foundation.
To date the CHCF has invested $740,000 in Palo Alto-based Direct Dermatology through the organization's Health Innovation Fund. The company, launched in 2010, has provided more than 4,000 teledermatology consults to referring primary care providers in rural and underserved parts of California.
The company recently launched an online service directly to patients, giving them access to dermatologists without the need for a physician's referral.
"Direct Dermatology leverages the ubiquity of digital cameras and secure Internet access to allow medical dermatologists to review patient skin conditions remotely," said Raj Gupta, MD, PhD, Direct Dermatology's co-founder, in a press release distributed by the CHCF. "Within 48 hours of receiving a picture from a provider or patient, we are able to diagnose and recommend treatment options."
"Skin problems account for approximately 25 percent of all visits to office-based PCPs," added Margaret Laws, director of CHCF's Innovations for the Underserved program, which manages the CHCF Health Innovation Fund, in the press release. "For many of these visits, the patient and physician would benefit from a consultation with a dermatologist, but the current shortage and geographic maldistribution of dermatologists often prevents or delays these consultations."
"We are extremely pleased that Direct Dermatology has developed a solution to a true access problem in our state," said Laws. "Additionally, the Direct Dermatology model allows care to be delivered more efficiently and at a lower cost to the patient and healthcare system."
Experts say dermatology is one of the faster-growing specialties making use of telehealth to expand their scope. Just this week, Highmark, a Pittsburgh-based Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee, announced a partnership with McMurray, Pa.-based Iagnosis to push its virtual dermatology platform out to its roughly 4.9 million members in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.
"This new process makes it convenient for patients to access care," said Eric Starr, director of business innovation and development at Highmark, in a Dec. 3 press release. "They will just simply take a photo with a smartphone device or digital camera and then go to the secure website and send the image. Based on the image, the physician can determine if the patient can be treated virtually. This really modifies the workflow of the dermatologist allowing office visits to be used for the most critical cases."
This virtual dermatology visit is not an insurance benefit; it will rather be an out-of-pocket expense for a person who decides to use this service. The charge has been initially set at $69 per visit.
"We just began this effort and already have about 10 doctors committed to joining the DermatologistOnCall network," said Mark Seraly, MD, Iagnosis' CEO and founder, in the release. "We expect many more to join in the next few months. This service will greatly expand access to care. Our goal is to grow the system and our new relationship with Highmark can only accelerate that effort."