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Telemed J E Health. 2011 Jun;17(5):363-9. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2010.0163. Epub 2011 May 20.

Dermatological diagnostic acumen improves with use of a simple telemedicine system for underserved areas of South Africa.

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  • 1Division of Dermatology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA.



Telemedicine holds promise as a tool for improving the delivery of specialty care, especially in underserved regions, including those in South Africa. However, data that demonstrate the extent of its sustainable benefits to referring providers are currently insufficient. This study investigates whether utilization of a teledermatology network enhances the diagnostic acumen of primary care providers (PCPs) in underserved areas of South Africa.


A longitudinal descriptive pilot study was conducted after establishing a telemedicine network linking University of Cape Town dermatology consultants to six providers from five underserved primary care sites using store-and-forward technology between October 2004 and January 2007. Of 120 total referrals, trend analysis was performed using 72 sets of patient histories, digital images, and corresponding consultant responses to evaluate the diagnostic concordance between six PCPs and teleconsultants over 12 consecutive referrals.


Strong positive Spearman rank-order correlations were observed between the number of referrals sent per PCP and proportion of primary diagnostic agreement with teledermatologists, rs=0.86 (p <0.001). The mean primary diagnostic concordance trend that started at 13% for the first four referrals increased nearly fourfold after referring as few as nine patients to the network.


If a simple and inexpensive teledermatology solution is carefully implemented in a resource-limited setting, an improvement of PCP diagnostic acumen can be achieved with a relatively small number of referrals. This educational benefit to referring PCPs could be sustainable and would ultimately enhance the quality of dermatological care in these underserved regions.

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