Teledermatology takes hold in Hawaii

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund

Hawaii officials are rolling out a teledermatology program for some of the state's underserved residents, improving access to healthcare in a state known for its high rate of skin cancer and access issues.

UnitedHealthcare, which covers more than 230,000 residents with a network of 23 hospitals and almost 6,000 care providers, has announced that residents enrolled in the state's Medicaid plan can now have access to a dermatologist through telemedicine. The new service allows physicians to capture images of concern during a patient exam, then send those images to and consult with a dermatologist via smartphone, tablet or computer.

[See also: Teledermatology platform reduces wait times - and anxiety]

"Sharing patient data and images remotely reduces the wait for real-time results, which can be critically important for patients – especially when it concerns conditions like skin cancer," Ron Fujimoto, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Hawaii, said in a press release.

For a state composed of exotic islands and sun-drenched locales, Hawaii has its share of health problems. The high costs of living makes it difficult for many on the lower fringes of the economic spectrum to afford healthcare, and those islands often mean a trip of more than a few hours to reach a healthcare provider. The process is even tougher to see one of the state's limited number of dermatologists, who may have a waiting list that's several months long. Also, the rate of melanoma diagnoses in certain counties is much higher than the national average – in Maui County, in fact, it's almost twice the national rate. In 2009, according to the Environmental Protection Agency the death rate from melanoma was 30 percent higher than the rest of the country.

Teledermatology has emerged as one of the more successful use cases for telemedicine, especially store-and-forward technology, because it relies on visual interpretation of a skin condition and dermatologists aren't plentiful. 

[See also: California HealthCare Foundation expands investment in teledermatology]

"Teledermatology is one of the most active applications of telemedicine rendered in the United States," according to a report by the American Telemedicine Association. "Dermatology is particularly suited to the use of advanced communication technologies and the internet for delivery of care. By using advanced communication technologies, dermatologists are able to widen their reach to patients in a cost-effective manner."

UnitedHealthcare is among the leaders in adopting telemedicine and telehealth services across the country. This past April, the network began offering coverage for virtual physician visits to members in self-funded employer health plans, and will expand that coverage to employer-sponsored and individual plan participants in 2016.