SEATTLE — The majority of patients who underwent a teledermatology follow-up after Mohs micrographic surgery reported that they preferred it to in-person follow up, according to new findings.
In addition, nearly all patients surveyed (91.4%) were willing to go through electronic follow-up again.
"A big takeaway from our study is that streamlining this process is really essential for successful implementation," said study author Laura Rezac, MD, a PGY IV dermatology resident at the University of Mississippi, Jackson. "This study demonstrated the flexibility and convenience for both patients and surgeons and can serve as a prototype for future innovation."
The study results were presented here at the American College of Mohs Surgery (ACMS) 2023 Annual Meeting.
The role of telehealth has rapidly expanded over the past decade, with its use accelerating during the COVID-19 pandemic and transforming into an indispensable resource. It can be synchronous, Rezac explained, which is when telehealth happens in live, real-time settings where the patient interacts with a clinician. This usually occurs via phone or video, and providers and patients communicate directly.
Conversely, asynchronous telehealth, also known as "store-and-forward," is often used for patient intake or follow-up care. For example, in dermatology, a patient can send a photo of a skin condition that is then reviewed by a dermatologist later.
"A pilot survey regarding the adoption of telemedicine in Mohs surgery found that although most dermatologic surgeons felt that it can play a role, most said that they didn't plan on using it after the pandemic," said Rezac.
The survey, which was reported by Medscape Medical News, found that 80% of surveyed surgeons said that they turned to telemedicine during the pandemic, compared with just 23% who relied on the technology prior to the pandemic.
There were numerous perceived barriers to the use of telemedicine, and the one most commonly cited was the uncertainty of how telemedicine fits in the workflow of clinical practice. Other limitations reported were for physical exams (88%), patient response and training (57%), reimbursement concerns (50%), implementation of the technology (37%), regulations such as HIPAA (24%), training of staff (17%), and licensing (8%).
"The survey did identify one key use of telemedicine in Mohs and that was for [postoperative] visits," she said. "But thus far, a postoperative evaluation after Mohs via an integrated asynchronous 'store and forward' teledermatology platform has not yet been evaluated."
In the new study, Rezac and colleagues sought to evaluate feasibility and efficacy, as well as patient attitudes, using a telemedicine platform for postoperative follow-up. A total of 163 patients who were treated with Mohs at a single academic institution during the 9-month study period (December 2021 through August 2022) responded to a survey and elected to participate in postoperative follow-up using telemedicine.
Rezac explained how their procedure was implemented for the patient. "On the day of the follow-up, the patient receives a text with a link that takes them to the MyChart website or app on their phone," she said. "Once they log in, they see that they have a message telling them that they have a teledermatology message waiting for them. When they view it, they are taken to the curated message with instructions and a phone call if they need assistance, and then at the bottom, it shows they have a task to complete, which is the questionnaire."
The patient will then be prompted to upload photos, which can be taken with their camera phone. The next step is to answer questions regarding the surgical site or pain concerns, and finally, patients are asked to respond to a few short questions about this type of follow-up. Once submitted, then they wait to be contacted by the surgeon.
On the surgeon's side, these answers come into their EPIC inbox, and they can respond via a MyChart message.
Patient response was overwhelmingly positive, Rezac noted. Of the patients, 80.4% found the electronic surgery follow-up process to be "easy" or "very easy," while only 4% found it "difficult" or "very difficult," she said. "Also, 75.5% preferred electronic follow-up while 17.2% preferred in-person follow-up."
There were limitations to this study, primarily that the asynchronous method does reduce live interaction depending on person's needs, Rezac pointed out. "But it is easy to schedule a phone call or video call or office visit."
"The universal barrier is how to adopt it into the workflow, which includes training of staff," she continued, "But this was a very streamlined process and gave very detailed instructions to the staff. Additionally, widespread use is limited to dermatological proficiency and access, and patients have to be amenable to it, so there is a selection bias since these patients chose to participate."
Asked to comment on the study for Medscape Medical News, Vishal Patel, MD, director of cutaneous oncology at George Washington University in Washington, DC, said: "The COVID pandemic changed how practices and providers considered follow-up visits for small routine matters. Postoperative visits are often simple and do not require an in-depth, in-person evaluation." Patel was not involved with this research.
"This study highlights the comfort of the vast majority of patients to have follow-up postoperative visits conducted via teledermatology — an approach that can help cut overall costs and also increase access for patients who are more in need of in-office care," he added.
No external funding of the study was reported. Rezac reported no relevant financial relationships. Patel is a consultant for Sanofi, Regeneron, and Almirall.
American College of Mohs Surgery (ACMS) 2023 Annual Meeting. "Evaluation of a Teledermatology Postoperative Follow-up Model after Mohs Micrographic Surgery." Presented May 4, 2023