Telemedicine, while providing easy access to health care for patients who live a distance away from traditional medical facilities, needs to step up its game, at least in the area of dermatology, according to a recent study by the “JAMA Dermotology.” The study used actors to interact with telemedical teams as dermatology patients. The study’s findings that often patients are misdiagnosed or conditions are missed have caused quite a stir in the medical community.

What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine uses electronic communication technology as well as data transfer software to allow doctors to consult with patients remotely, rather than in person. The doctor and patient converse via computer communication links like SKYPE and Facetime, while the patient’s medical tests and vital signs are transmitted via a secure data link, often directly from the testing equipment. The chief advantage of telemedicine is that it allows patients in rural and remote areas to seek medical treatment and get followup care that they may not be able to get due to their distance from the nearest medical facility.

Controversy surrounding the JAMA study
The JAMA study concluded that conditions, such as syphilis, herpes and skin cancer, were often missed and treatments were often at odds with recommended practices. The results of this study have been widely reported in mainstream publications, including the “Wall Street Journal.”

Medical professionals, including members of the American Telemedicine Association, have been vocal in their criticism of this study, arguing that using actors was an unfair practice and not representative of actual patient-doctor interaction. They also hastened to point out that the study was small (just 62 patients) and that sub-par medical care can happen with in-person interaction as well.

The bottom line
What does all of this mean? While more study is needed to properly access the usefulness of telemedicine, the JAMA study does bring into question whether more stringent regulations are needed in the growing field of telemedicine. While this type of medicine is useful, doctors who use this tool need to be held to the same standards as traditional, in-person doctors.