Teledermatology in the U.K.: lessons in service innovation

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Abstract

Background

Teledermatology has the potential to revolutionize the delivery of dermatology services by facilitating access to specialist services at a distance. In the U.K. over the previous decade there have been numerous attempts at introducing and using teledermatology; however, the development of teledermatology as routine service provision remains limited.

Objectives

To identify factors that promote successful use of teledermatology as a part of routine service provision.

Methods

A longitudinal qualitative study of teledermatology, drawing on data from in-depth semistructured interviews; observations of systems in practice; and public meetings. Data were analysed collectively by the research team using established qualitative analytical techniques to identify key thematic categories. The sample consisted of teledermatology services within the U.K. (n = 12) studied over 8 years (1997–2005). Individual participants (n = 68 interviews) were consultant dermatologists, researchers, teledermatology nurses, administrators, patient advocates, general practitioners and technologists.

Results

The analysis compared services that did or did not become part of routine healthcare practice to identify features that supported the normalization of teledermatology. Requirements for using and integrating teledermatology into practice included: political support; perceived benefit and relative commitment that outweighs effort; pragmatic approaches to proving efficacy and safety; perception of risk as being ‘manageable’ on the basis of professional judgement; high levels of flexibility in practice (in terms of individuals, technology and organization); and reconceptualizing professional roles.

Conclusions

Successful implementation of teledermatology as a routine service requires greater understanding of and attention to the interplay between social and technical aspects of teledermatology, and how this is accommodated both by healthcare professionals and the organizations in which they work.

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