Maturity of teledermatology evaluation research: a systematic literature review

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Abstract

Background

There is a growing interest in teledermatology in today's clinical practice, but the maturity of the evaluation research of this technology is still unclear.

Objectives

This systematic review describes the maturity of teledermatology evaluation research over time and explores what kind of teledermatology outcome measures have been evaluated.

Methods

Systematic review of literature found in Medline database (1966 up to April 2006). A telemedicine evaluation strategy consisting of four consecutive research phases (parallel to drug and diagnostics evaluation research) extended with a fifth postimplementation phase was used to classify all included studies by two independent reviewers. In addition, main characteristics (store-and-forward or real-time, study design, outcome measures) were registered.

Results

Three hundred and forty-five papers were systematically selected from Medline, and 244 papers were excluded. For two randomized controlled trials (RCTs), multiple papers in phase III were found. After correcting for this, 99 studies remained included (11 phase I, 72 phase II, two phase III, six phase IV, eight postimplementation phase). The number of phase II studies is the largest and still growing, while other phases are much less represented. Diagnostic accuracy was the most often used outcome measure and was found in phase I, II and IV. Store-and-forward teledermatology has been evaluated more since 2001, but most phase IV studies (RCTs, including cost aspects) are on real-time teledermatology.

Conclusions

Most teledermatology evaluation studies are classified as feasibility studies (phase II). The number of phase III and IV studies remains low through the years. Compared with other specialties in telemedicine (i.e. telesurgery, telepaediatrics), teledermatology seems to be a mature application. However, more evaluation studies with a focus on clinical outcomes such as preventable referrals or time to recovery are needed to prove that teledermatology indeed is a promising and cost-saving technology.

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