USC students who have a mysterious rash, problem acne or any number of other conditions can now heal their skin without having to see a dermatologist in person.

Virtual dermatology consults, which have been available through USC Student Health since last spring, enable primary care physicians to send photos of patients’ skin issues to Alexandra Haden, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Keck Medicine of USC.

Within a few days, Haden delivers a diagnosis and treatment plan — less than a quarter of the amount of time it would take through the conventional route of getting an appointment and making a visit to the clinic. That means significantly less time Trojans have to live with certain skin problems.

“Demand is higher than supply in terms of the need for dermatologic care among students,” said Haden, the sole USC Student Health dermatologist. “Waits to get into see a specialist can be quite long — up to a month sometimes — so this allows students to get care much faster.”


Visual diagnoses make virtual dermatology possible

Haden said the new system works well because up to 60 to 70% of the cases she sees don’t actually require an in-person visit.

“In the world of telemedicine, virtual dermatology is the most common because what we’re treating is visual,” she said. Photos are all she needs to see to diagnose and treat many skin conditions. She can also provide follow-up care and adjust treatment plans virtually.

“I see a big range that includes acne, rashes, eczema and psoriasis, to lumps and bumps that may need to be biopsied, to scarring, to warts,” said Haden, who added that if the condition is in a sensitive area or if a skin check is needed, patients will still need to come in for an actual appointment.

Elizabeth Laughlin-Hobbs, PA-C, a physician assistant with USC Student Health and a clinical instructor of family medicine (practitioner) at the Keck School of Medicine, said the virtual dermatology consults with Haden have been invaluable to her patient care on a daily basis.

“This has been the best thing to happen for the specialty, since most of what we see simply needs a consultation,” Laughlin-Hobbs said. “This hastens treatment for the patient and decreases the chance of worsening symptoms due to a delay in care. Patients have been very grateful, and it makes wonderful use of both technology and hands-on medicine.”


Feedback on virtual care shows promising results

Many primary care clinicians have also found that the weekly consultations with Haden have expanded their knowledge base within the specialization of dermatology.

Kimberly Tilley, MD, the co-medical director at USC Student Health who spearheaded the new system, said that she’s heard nothing but positive feedback from both patients and providers.

“We are always thinking about newer models of care delivery to provide cost-effective, timely and high-quality care for the students,” Tilley said. “It has been exciting to be part of this program development at USC.”

— Andrea Bennett