Teledermatology: Sharing knowledge via Web

August 1, 2005

The unique aspect of the telederm.org philosophy is that every colleague can easily seek diagnostic advice for free from a pool of other colleagues who are willing to share their knowledge.

The free Web service, http:// http://www.telederm.org/, is the brainchild of H. Peter Soyer, M.D., department of dermatology, Medical University of Graz, Graz, Austria, and colleagues who visualized a system where experts could give and receive user-generated dermatologic knowledge on a worldwide level.

Today, more than 500 healthcare professionals from 45 different countries have subscribed to http://telederm.org/.

"Teledermatology provides a well-defined channel for dermatology experts to interact," Dr. Soyer says. "It holds great potential for revolutionizing the delivery of dermatologic services."

He says the http://telederm.org/ program is like getting a free consult whenever a doctor needs it. The user-friendly platform allows discussions about challenging or unusual cases in clinical dermatology, dermatopathology and dermatology, with particular emphasis on diagnosis, differential diagnosis and treatment.

The visual nature of dermatology makes it a perfect fit with http://telederm.org/.

"We have found that skin disorders can be telediagnosed by various experts worldwide, stimulating an exchange of knowledge and expertise," Dr. Soyer tells Dermatology Times. "Building a connected world in dermatology by promoting free-access teleconsulting is one way to harness the opportunities."

Unique aspect

Only physicians and healthcare providers can subscribe to http://telederm.org/, and registration is required. The forum is controlled and activated by a moderator who regulates the content and explains the process to new users.

After subscribers receive their password, they can begin submitting and responding to "requests", either from a particular expert or from an online forum, on a particular patient. Images are uploaded for each request and integrated with a form for patient clinical data. They are then sent directly to a Web site section called "discussion view", representing the online discussion forum. Here, consultations are visible to all users, who can either read the consultations as bystanders or actively submit online opinions. Nearly 800 direct consultations have been answered and more than 100 cases have been posted in the discussion view.

Accuracy most important

While the well-known technical limitations of teledermatology have been mostly solved, the most important factor in the teleconsultation arena is accuracy, according to Dr. Soyer. The http://telederm.org/ program allows frank discussions using the asynchronous SAF (store and forward) system in order to overcome "areas of weakness" of a single observer, and allow different diagnostic and therapeutic thoughts from several expert Web viewers.

The SAF systems have also been found to be accurate and effective, whether images are sent via email or through a Web-based system.