Earlier this year, the NHS announced a rollout of new technology designed to aid skin cancer detection. The wholesale launch of this ‘teledermatology’ project, which includes smartphone cameras which can help spot whether a patient is presenting with a clinically concerning condition, marks a turning point for the treatment of skin cancer. With this launch, the NHS hopes to double the number of patients clinicians can see in a day and reduce the lengthy NHS backlog currently crippling the health service.
Diagnostic technologies such as surgery-grade camera lenses offer a brilliant opportunity to open up teledermatology as a resource. These devices can be fitted to smartphone cameras so GPs can capture high-quality images of their patients’ skin lesions. However, if we want to unlock the full potential of these tech solutions, we need to ensure that this new hardware is supported by the right software.
Equipment such as dermatoscopes must be backed up through the provision of effective channels that allow clinicians to share and request specialist advice in real-time. This ‘advice and guidance’ capability will enable GPs and skin cancer specialists to liaise in real time, review cases remotely, and advise on the next best steps. This connectivity ensures patients can be triaged to the most appropriate form of treatment and aids early diagnosis.
This pairing of teledermatology tech with innovative communication systems can also help reduce the number of people joining waiting lists unnecessarily, by confirming the benign and ‘nothing to worry about’ cases in a primary care setting. As a result, this will free up access to hospital consultants for those who need it and help bring down the extensive number of patients on skin cancer waiting lists, with referrals growing by 9% last year alone.
There is already ample evidence this type of software can bring serious benefits when it comes to dermatology outcomes. In Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership, almost 230 practices have introduced the ‘advice and guidance’ software, supported by the use of dermatoscopes. This has led to 49% of cases submitted being successfully managed through ‘advice and guidance’ alone. At scale, this hardware-software approach could revolutionise diagnosis and radically improve skin cancer outcomes.
As with all NHS innovation, new dermatology or skin cancer detection tools need to have comprehensive onboarding support for clinicians. Tech that is too difficult or a pain to use will result in a lack of uptake. Infrastructure for new tech needs to be externally supportive from implementation and beyond to enable clinicians to effectively use new communications channels without any increase in workload for clinicians. And that’s also why all such roll-outs must be seen in the round - by introducing brilliant hardware but neglecting software, or by piloting tech platforms that can’t ‘talk’ to each other - we’re curtailing the potential.
Systems in use must be interoperable and enable the sharing of information and data with digital systems already in use across the NHS. This will enable a reduced workload for clinicians and will ultimately benefit clinicians and patients. In terms of security and compliance, supportive tools must meet NHS standards if they are going to be implementable across healthcare systems.
Hardware tools such as dermatoscopes must be used in partnership with innovative software communications systems to ensure the effective use of teledermatology and the creation of more joined-up, streamlined care. By providing clinicians with the tools to communicate with each other - whether that’s sharing medical grade images or discussing best next steps - we can drive down waiting times for patients and ensure they get the right care, in the right place.