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Study looks at teledermatology websites

Pennsylvania residents who use teledermatology websites may be interested in a study published in JAMA Dermatology. Several researchers looked at the accuracy of diagnoses at 16 of those websites. Study personnel pretended to be patients and submitted photos from online sources representing a variety of conditions.

The assessments of the websites were mixed. Some of the sites used clinicians who were based outside of the country. Just over one-quarter disclosed licensure of its clinicians, and in 68 percent of the cases, patients were assigned a clinician without being given a choice. The study used smartphone apps as well as websites that offered teledermatology services regionally and nationally.

In just over three-fourths of the cases, the sites diagnosed a condition or made a likely diagnosis. In 65 percent of those cases, they also ordered prescriptions, but in most instances, potential risks were not discussed. The sites diagnosed some conditions correctly, but there were several missed diagnoses including polycystic ovarian syndrome, eczema herpeticum and secondary syphilis. However, researchers cautioned that they did not know how traditional clinics would have fared in comparison. They found that clinics performed best when a diagnosis could be made from a photograph, but clinics often neglected follow-up questions. Researchers recommended teledermatology was best done by established practices.

Whether it occurs online or at a brick-and-mortar medical facility, a failure to diagnose can seriously affect a person's health and can even be deadly. A misdiagnosis may occur when a physician fails to pursue a line of inquiry because a person's medical history does not appear to support a particular diagnosis or when a person's symptoms are atypical. A person who has been harmed by a physician's failure to diagnose a condition may want to meet with an attorney in order to determine the recourse that may be available.

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