A comparison of real-time and store-and-forward teledermatology: a cost–benefit study


Ms Maria Loane. E-mail: m.loane@mailbox.uq.edu.au


Background Increasing use of teledermatology should be based on demonstration of favourable accuracy and cost–benefit analysis for the different methods of use of this technique.

Objectives To evaluate the clinical efficacy and cost-effectiveness of real-time and store-and-forward teledermatology.

Methods Patients attended their own health centre and in the company of a general practitioner (GP) were seen by a hospital dermatologist over the videolink (real-time). Before the videolink consultation commenced, the GP took instant photographs of the skin lesion and posted them along with a standard referral letter to a different hospital dermatologist (store-and-forward). In total, 96 patients were seen by both real-time and store-and-forward teledermatology. Comparative diagnoses, clinical management plans, clinical outcomes and associated costs were made between the two types of teledermatology consultation.

Results There was agreement between the videolink diagnosis and the still image diagnosis in 51% of cases. The same or similar management plan was recommended at both types of consultation in 44% of cases. Following the store-and-forward consultation the dermatologist recommended that 69% of patients required at least one hospital appointment compared with 45% of those patients seen in real-time. The net societal cost of the initial real-time consultation was £132·10 per patient compared with £26·90 per patient for the initial store-and-forward consultation.

Conclusions The store-and-forward consultation was cheaper, but less clinically efficient, compared with the real-time consultation. The absence of interaction in a store-and-forward consultation limits the dermatologist’s ability to obtain clinically useful information in order to diagnose and manage a patient satisfactorily.