According to NHS England, the dermatoscope technology, which consists of a small lens attached to a phone camera, is enabling dermatologists to double the number of patients they can review in a day.
Currently used in about 15 per cent of trusts offering dermatology services, teledermatology is set to be rolled out to all areas of the country by July this year. The use of dermatoscopes is also being expanded across GP practices, which can support people living in more rural communities.
Over 600,000 people have been referred for skin cancer checks in the last year, which is nine per cent higher than in the previous year and double the number sent for checks almost a decade ago.
As part of plans to reduce waiting times, NHS trusts have been asked to expand the use of teledermatology within community diagnostic centres, meaning people will not need to wait for a face-to-face appointment to have their skin assessed. Instead, they can be referred directly to a diagnostic hub in their local area.
In a statement, Somerset GP Dr Tom While said: “Being able to get a swift and specialist opinion on a skin lesion or rash, and advice on treatment or local surgical options, often negates the need to refer the patient on to another hospital to see the specialist in person. This not only reduces waiting lists, but strongly benefits my patients who live in rural areas, saving them from long unnecessary journeys.
“If a patient does need to be referred on to a specialist, then the teledermatology service helps to streamline that process, ensuring the patient is seen in the correct clinic at the right time – it’s a fantastic service and an asset to rural general practice.”
The NHS is also trialling the use of magnifying lenses that use artificial intelligence technology to assess a patient’s skin lesions within seconds for the presence of cancer.
DERM (deep Ensemble for the Recognition of Malignancy) is initially being used alongside clinician assessments, but it is hoped it will provide faster and more accurate skin cancer detection.
During an earlier testing phase, the device was shown to have helped avoid around 10,000 face-to-face appointments.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Championing the use of digital technology and new ways of working is key to reducing waits and is exactly why we are accelerating the use of teledermatology – it is a small piece of kit that has the potential to speed up diagnosis and treatment for tens of thousands with skin cancer.
“We are going a step further even and expanding the use of artificial intelligence lenses in teledermatology to diagnose skin cancers, and this is proving highly effective in areas that have trialled the technology so far.”
As part of new plans to see and treat people for cancer as early as possible, hospitals have been asked to work towards a 10-day turnaround when delivering diagnostic test results to patients who have received an urgent referral for suspected cancer.