What to Know About Telehealth for Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

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Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, comes with chronic, uncomfortable symptoms that need ongoing management. People with the disease can have skin that is dry, itchy, or inflamed, and certain triggers can cause symptoms to flare up. Telehealth provides an effective way for people with this condition to check in with a dermatologist when in-person visits aren’t possible, necessary, or desirable.

Examples of telehealth visits include video calls, phone calls, and the exchange of text messages and photos of your condition and medical history with your dermatologist through a patient portal or app.

woman consulting with her doctor online

Marko Geber / Getty Images

When to Use

Telehealth visits are especially useful in the management of chronic health conditions. In dermatology, they are most suitable for visible skin, hair, and nail diseases, such as eczema.

There is no cure for eczema, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA). Rather, it takes ongoing effort to avoid flare-ups, which can be triggered by allergens such as pollen and pet dander; chemical irritants such as soap or cleaners; dry skin; fabric; stress; hormonal changes; or infections.

The disease is linked to an overactive immune system. People of all ages can have it, but it commonly starts in early childhood and improves as a child grows older.

For a person who has eczema long-term, telehealth visits can be a great tool in the management of the disease. They do not replace in-office visits, during which a dermatologist may examine you or perform a test or procedure. Rather, they allow you and your doctor to communicate about symptoms, flare-ups, treatments, and medications, enabling continuity of care in between office visits.

Telehealth visits have grown in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to receive care without risking coronavirus infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), telehealth visits increased by 50% during the first quarter of 2020, mostly for health conditions not related to COVID-19.

Benefits and Challenges

Eczema patients who get follow-up care after an initial in-person visit using telehealth show similar improvement in their symptoms as those who do follow-up care in person, according to a 2015 study of children and adults. In the study, 38% of telehealth patients found their symptoms had cleared up entirely or almost entirely within a year, compared with 44% of people who had only in-person visits.

For people who live far away from their dermatologist, a telehealth visit can save them the time they would normally spend taking off of work and the money they would spend on transportation.

Telehealth visits also help minimize the risk of COVID-19, which can come with traveling outside of the home.

However, diagnoses made during telehealth visits aren’t necessarily as reliable as those made during in-office visits. An analysis of teledermatology studies in March 2021 concluded they were less reliable, and the study authors concluded that telehealth visits are most suitable for conditions with low risks. Still, they are useful for reaching patients who can’t attend an in-office visit or for screening patients for an in-office follow-up, according to the researchers.

How to Prepare

Before you book an appointment for a telehealth visit, check with your insurer to see if they cover teledermatology. During the pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took steps to make it easier for private insurers to cover telehealth services and for people on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program to access them.

Take the following steps before an appointment, according to the NEA and the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD):

  • Contact your dermatologist’s office ahead of time to find out how the appointment will work. Ask whether it will involve a live video chat, a phone call, sending written descriptions and photos, or any combination of these methods.
  • Make a list of your concerns and the questions you want to ask the doctor.
  • Write down your medical history so that you have it handy during the appointment. This includes any medications you are taking, prior health problems, when your current symptoms started, any allergies, and any family history of eczema or allergies.
  • If asked, take high-resolution photos of the areas of your body where you have symptoms and send them to your dermatologist before the appointment. You may have to use an app or portal to send the photos.
  • If it’s a live video call, test your camera, microphone, and Internet connection. This is important because technical difficulties often pop up, cutting into the time when your doctor should be focused on you. Also, make sure the camera is in a well-lit place and is positioned so that you can show affected areas of your skin to your doctor. The doctor’s office may have you test the platform, as well, before the call. If you don’t have the means to do a live video call, see if you can do it by phone or email.
  • Avoid doing anything that might irritate your skin or change its appearance before your telehealth appointment. Avoid hot showers or skin products that trigger reactions, for instance.
  • During the appointment, make sure you understand how your follow-up care will work. That includes knowing how you will be contacted for any prescriptions, future appointments, tests, or instructions.

What to Expect

During the telehealth visit, your dermatologist may do the following, according to the AAD:

  • Take your medical history
  • Discuss your current symptoms
  • Examine your skin based on photos you provided or what they see on the video feed
  • Discuss the ongoing treatment of your eczema or changes in treatment
  • Prescribe medication or treatments
  • Decide to order tests

You may also go over previous test results with your dermatologist during your telehealth appointment.

The AAD provides a directory of dermatologists who offer telehealth services. To find one, toggle the Any Practice Focus field to the Teledermatology option.

HHS also has a guide for finding telehealth options through your insurance or a health center.

A Word From Verywell

Eczema is a condition that requires ongoing management of your symptoms, and telehealth visits provide a convenient and safe way for you to have regular appointments with your dermatologist in between in-person visits. Telehealth can save you the hassle of traveling and help minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19. However, in order to get the best care, expect that from time to time you will still have to make a trip to your doctor’s office for tests and physical exams.

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