University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust plans to expand its telehealth dermatology service for patients in the South West of England. 

The trust provides remote assistance for patients with skin problems that eliminates the need for them to attend hospital for appointments.

Run by clinicians at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust (UH Bristol), the “teledermatology” service allows patients to book a consultation through their GP and receive feedback from specialists at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Their GP carries out a normal consultation, taking notes and photographs of their condition, which are then sent to the dermatology department at the hospital.

A dermatologist then reviews and responds to the GP, usually within a couple of days, providing guidance on how to care for the patient and whether further investigation or hospital care is needed.

UH Bristol reported that is now carrying out around 4,000 consultations a year through the system, saving hours of travel time for patients.

More than 70% of patients using this system are now seen and managed in their own GP practice without a hospital visit, according to the trust, which is now treating patients as far south as Taunton.

There are now plans to expand the teledermatology service further under UH Bristol’s five-year vision for 2025, ‘Embracing Change, Proud to Care.’

David de Berker, consultant dermatologist at UH Bristol, said: “We have been developing our teledermatology service for nearly 10 years and it has now become a central part of our way of delivering care to patients.

“It relies on close collaboration with GPs who are a key part in caring for patients with skin disease, saving patient waits, travel and enabling those without local hospital services to access consultant opinions.”

UH Bristol’s five-year vision to 2025 includes working more closely with health and care partners to provide more joined-up services under its Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) programme.

The programme outlines UH Bristol’s aim to make better use of research and information and medical technology, like teledermatology, to improve services and be “at the leading edge of healthcare”.

This includes collaborating with primary care networks outside of hospital to reduce the number of face-to-face outpatient appointments in southwest England.

Similar initiatives are underway elsewhere in the country.

On Isle of Wight, for example, GP practices recently began use of an app that allows clinicians to take high-resolution photos of patients’ skin complains and send them to specialists for assessment.

Argyll House Surgery in Ryde and St Helens Medical Centre in St Helens have both introduced the Dermicus app, created by Swedish company, Gnosco.

GP Tony Wright, who is based at Polden Medical Practice in Somerset, said: “The teledermatology service is an essential part of dermatology at Polden Medical Practice.

“For patients, there are a number of benefits including that they can get an opinion without having to travel a long journey to hospital. The service at UH Bristol is excellent and provides a quick response, meaning patients can have an appointment close to home with their GP.

“From a doctor’s perspective it’s also a really valuable service, which is really reassuring and helps GPs to gain education about dermatology from the specialists in Bristol.”