The public health restrictions put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic created much uncertainty for all people managing chronic medical conditions, including patients with psoriasis and the dermatologists that treat them. Due to the prompt closure of many facilities including doctor’s offices and clinics, telehealth was rapidly embraced by the medical community as a solution to keep patients safe while still providing essential continuity of care.
Consulting with your dermatologist on a computer screen or a talking to them on the phone may seem odd, since dermatologists often diagnose and evaluate treatment by looking at and feeling a patient’s skin (along with taking a medical history and discussing symptoms and emotional well-being, of course). However, given the importance of continuity of care in psoriasis, I knew telehealth was going to be an important solution to helping me stay connected with my patients and ensure they stay on track to reach their treatment goals.
So, what is a telehealth appointment and how should you prepare? I’m here to walk you through how I usually conduct a telehealth appointment and provide you guidance on preparing for your virtual visit so you can stay on track with your own treatment journey.
Customize your telehealth appointment
A telehealth appointment may involve a video conference call or a telephone call, which can be enhanced by sending your dermatologist photos of your condition through a secure patient portal. When considering your options, your comfort is extremely important. If you would feel more at ease with one method or another, ask your dermatologist what specific telehealth options they offer and how they can best accommodate you. I am able to offer patients the option of either a telephone call or a video conference call, depending on their access to technology, their location at the time of the appointment and their preferences. I always prefer to see a patient by video, if possible, as I can more accurately evaluate the current treatment response and also get a feel for a patient’s emotional well-being, which is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because dermatology requires visual examination, your video quality and lighting really do impact your telehealth experience. It’s important that you take your video call or take any photos in an area with good lighting. Consider using the flashlight function on your smartphone to enhance the lighting quality of your photo. Additionally, don’t wear make-up and try not to scratch or scrub your skin right beforehand—this could alter the appearance of the skin during your video or photos and make it harder for the dermatologist to make an accurate assessment.
Get more tips about preparing for a telehealth psoriasis appointment here.
The positives of telehealth for psoriasis patients
I think many of my patients were surprised with how smooth and efficient telehealth appointments can be, and you may be as well. While you may not be able to get certain medical tests, like biopsies, performed remotely, a dermatologist can evaluate your plaques, prescribe you treatment, order you tests and schedule any in-person follow-ups you might need. If you’re already on treatment, a telehealth call is a convenient option to check in with your dermatologist about how that treatment is going and if it’s meeting your shared goals. It also provides the opportunity for you to chat with your dermatologist about the different ways your psoriasis is impacting you beyond your skin symptoms.
Another added benefit of telehealth is the ability to easily ask your dermatologist questions as they arise. Just because this is a new format, it doesn’t mean you can’t follow up with questions, just like a regular appointment. I always encourage my patients to call, email or message in a patient portal as they think of questions so we can make sure we’re addressing concerns. Many of my patients have actually felt more comfortable asking questions in a telehealth appointment than they have in an in-person visit to the clinic or office!
Telehealth visits have provided continuity and stability for both people with psoriasis and the dermatologists who treat them. Being able to connect with my patients during this time, even over video, has reassured me that we can continue care without having to worry about putting anyone at risk during the pandemic. During a time of so much uncertainty, it’s comforting to have a safe and effective alternative solution to enable us to continue working towards achieving each patients’ treatment goals, even when are unable to meet for in-person appointments.
In the future, telehealth may be a way for the dermatology community as a whole to take on issues like rural versus urban care access and long waiting periods to see specialists. The more options patients with psoriasis have, the better and more personalized their care can be.
Interested in learning more about how you can start having more personalized conversations with your doctor about care? See a customizable doctor discussion guide here.
You deserve to feel confident in your skin, but how do you have a clear conversation about your psoriasis goals with your doctor? Sometimes speaking up can be the hardest part.
Be clear about your goals. The power to speak up, feel confident and demand the best care is within you. Sharing your story could be your next step to feeling free from psoriasis—and possibly inspire others to do the same.