On average, a patients waits approximately a month for a dermatology visit, with many having to wait several months. Many of these are patients that require urgent interventions. The incidence of skin cancer has significantly increased the past decades, with about 3 million new cases occurring globally each year. Developing a reliable system that is able to distinguish between more critical and benign conditions could help optimize the dermatology process and improve patient care and health outcomes.
The Boston-based startup 3Derm is developing a skin imaging system that allows patients and primary care workers to take clinical-quality 3D skin images remotely. Their system, captures and delivers 3 views of a patient’s skin irregularity, the same a dermatologist uses in an exam room. These images include an overview image to provide context of the surrounding skin, a 3D image to view texture and elevation in a color calibrated image, and a dermatoscope image to look at pigmentation and vasculature under the skin. The images are uploaded and stored in a cloud service before a team of dermatologists review them remotely, and patients are either screened out or given an expedited appointment.
The startup’s goal is to avoid unnecessary visits to a dermatologist and minimize the time for patients to get feedback on suspicious-looking skin conditions. In fact, the innovative, low-cost teledermatology solution has shown to reduce dermatology referrals from primary care by over 50%, and all patients received a consult within 48 hours. In addition, over 90% of melanomas were detected at an earlier stage, not only highlighting how the technology could increase access to care, but increase efficiency and improve patient care and health outcomes.
These promising numbers also highlight the huge potential dermatology has in telemedicine despite being criticized for not living up to their accuracy claims, lacking transparency, diagnostic and therapeutic quality. 3Derm has gained clinical validation with an efficacy study comparing in-person visits with dermatologists analyzing 3Derm images in 350 patients. The study showed that dermatologists reading 3Derm images identified malignant and benign lesions on par with dermatologists diagnosing in-person, not only demonstrating the accuracy but the diagnostic quality of the technology.
So far, teledermatology services has focused on patients using handheld digital cameras and apps, and in some cases even using AI to automatically diagnose different conditions. 3Derm is taking a step back from that approach, and highlighting the importance of the dermatologist. They are not only focusing on making a better solution for patients, but for dermatologists as well, allowing them to monitor high volumes of patients while reserving in-clinic appointments for patients whose images indicate a more alarming condition. By doing so, they are highlighting the importance of the dermatologist and their role in the decision-making process, while optimizing the system currently in place for all stakeholders.