Teledermatology in the U.K.: lessons in service innovation

Authors

  • T.L. Finch,

    1. Centre for Health Services Research, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 Claremont Place, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4AA, U.K.
      *Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Glasgow, 1 Horselethill Road, Glasgow G12 9LX, U.K.
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  • F.S. Mair,

    1. Centre for Health Services Research, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 Claremont Place, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4AA, U.K.
      *Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Glasgow, 1 Horselethill Road, Glasgow G12 9LX, U.K.
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  • C.R. May

    1. Centre for Health Services Research, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 Claremont Place, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4AA, U.K.
      *Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Glasgow, 1 Horselethill Road, Glasgow G12 9LX, U.K.
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  • Conflicts of interest
    None declared.

Tracy Finch.
E-mail: Tracy.Finch@ncl.ac.uk

Summary

Background  Teledermatology has the potential to revolutionize the delivery of dermatology services by facilitating access to specialist services at a distance. In the U.K. over the previous decade there have been numerous attempts at introducing and using teledermatology; however, the development of teledermatology as routine service provision remains limited.

Objectives  To identify factors that promote successful use of teledermatology as a part of routine service provision.

Methods  A longitudinal qualitative study of teledermatology, drawing on data from in-depth semistructured interviews; observations of systems in practice; and public meetings. Data were analysed collectively by the research team using established qualitative analytical techniques to identify key thematic categories. The sample consisted of teledermatology services within the U.K. (n = 12) studied over 8 years (1997–2005). Individual participants (n = 68 interviews) were consultant dermatologists, researchers, teledermatology nurses, administrators, patient advocates, general practitioners and technologists.

Results  The analysis compared services that did or did not become part of routine healthcare practice to identify features that supported the normalization of teledermatology. Requirements for using and integrating teledermatology into practice included: political support; perceived benefit and relative commitment that outweighs effort; pragmatic approaches to proving efficacy and safety; perception of risk as being ‘manageable’ on the basis of professional judgement; high levels of flexibility in practice (in terms of individuals, technology and organization); and reconceptualizing professional roles.

Conclusions  Successful implementation of teledermatology as a routine service requires greater understanding of and attention to the interplay between social and technical aspects of teledermatology, and how this is accommodated both by healthcare professionals and the organizations in which they work.

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