What to Know About Telehealth for Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States and is usually caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or a tanning bed.

Skin cancer is often treated in a dermatologist’s office, but thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare providers are using telehealth for evaluating and managing skin cancer in their patients. Your practitioner may be able to conduct follow-up visits or post-surgical appointments via telehealth. 

Telehealth utilizes technology such as smartphones, tablets, and computers to provide care, and it can make keeping up with your cancer treatment easier and more convenient. It can also help those who live in remote areas access care with a specialist.

However, skin cancer also requires in-office visits for thorough skin checks, mole removals, and other necessary appointments. Telehealth should never replace regular visits with your dermatologist. 

Woman sitting on the sofa while making video call over laptop with her doctor

Drazen Zigic / Getty Images

When to Use Telehealth for Skin Cancer

Telehealth appointments are not meant to replace annual skin checks with your dermatologist, but rather fill in the gaps between those regular exams. 

New Skin Growth 

If you have noticed a new skin growth or sore that never seems to heal, it’s important to get it looked at by a dermatologist. Because much of a dermatology skin screening is visual, your dermatologist can take a look at the growth if you send them photos of it or show it to them over video chat. From there, your healthcare provider will be able to advise when to come to the office.

Skin growths to seek care for include:

  • A new spot that appears to be growing
  • A sore or blemish that never heals
  • A rough, scaly patch of red skin
  • A mole that is changing its size or shape

Follow-Up Visit

Many dermatologists are now able to offer telehealth appointments to follow up with you after skin cancer treatment. Your treatment may involve a biopsy or skin growth removal.

As long as your surgical site is healing well and there are no signs of infection, your dermatologist may be able to evaluate it virtually. Your healthcare provider will most likely request photos of the site, as well as a video visit. 

Start With a Self-Exam

Make sure you are monitoring your skin for new or changing growths or moles. If you have a history of skin cancer or the disease runs in your family, regular self-exams are especially important. 

Examine your skin from head to toe using both a full-length mirror and a hand mirror for tough-to-reach spots. Don’t forget to examine the insides of any skinfolds, as well as in between your toes and under your nails.

Educational Appointment

Receiving a skin cancer diagnosis is a lot to wrap your head around. You most likely have several questions and fears that you’d like to discuss with your dermatologist.

Because an educational appointment does not require in-person care, many dermatologists can conduct them virtually. An educational appointment may cover your type of skin cancer, prognosis, and treatment plan. It may be with your practitioner or another healthcare professional, such as a nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. 

You May Need to Be Seen in Person If…

  • You are due for an annual skin check
  • Your dermatologist recommends a skin biopsy
  • You have a scheduled lab test
  • Your skin biopsy or surgical site appears infected
  • Your skin biopsy or surgical site is not healing
  • You develop a high fever


Benefits and Challenges

Skin cancer telehealth screenings and appointments are starting to become more common because of their convenience and efficiency. They offer a number of benefits for patients, but they are not without challenges.

Detect Skin Cancer 

Skin cancer screenings are uniquely suited for telehealth because they are visual in nature. Dermatologists can often spot concerning skin growths or moles solely by looking at them.

Sending your healthcare provider a photo taken with your smartphone or showing your skin growth on a video call allows your dermatologist to examine your skin and make recommendations. A 2016 study found that dermatologists who use smartphone microscopy are able to diagnose nonmelanoma skin cancers without a traditional microscope. 

Reduced Wait Times

Telehealth appointments tend to be quicker and more convenient than visiting a clinic.

A 2017 study found that when dermatologists incorporated telehealth visits into their clinic schedule, the wait time to be seen went down. This allowed patients to be evaluated and begin treatment sooner.

Because skin cancer is more treatable and curable at early stages, reduced wait times are a significant benefit of telehealth. 

Increased Screening Availability

A 2020 study found that when the Southern California region was under lockdown orders in March 2020, there was a 65.2% decrease in dermatologist visits. This concerned local dermatologists because they feared that skin cancer cases were going undiagnosed due to a lack of available care.

Telehealth calls with photos and video chats allow dermatologists to continue to screen their patients even in the midst of a global pandemic. 

High Patient Satisfaction

Having the option to meet with a dermatologist virtually has been a popular choice for people with skin cancer. Studies have shown that patients are typically very satisfied with telehealth appointments for skin cancer screenings and follow-up.

In a 2017 study, many patients stated that they were even willing to pay out of pocket for telehealth services—as opposed to in-person appointments with health insurance—due to the convenience and time saved. 

Catch Problems Early

A benefit of telehealth is that it is often quick and cost effective to implement. This allows dermatologists to stay in close contact with their patients when needed.

A 2012 study examined the impact of a nurse or surgeon calling an individual who underwent MOHS surgery for skin cancer to check in. The result was very high patient satisfaction.

The providers were also able to answer any questions right away, which cut down on patient calls to the clinic later on. These telehealth calls also contributed to high patient satisfaction and reduced anxiety about surgery recovery.

Drawbacks and Challenges

The benefits of telehealth services for skin cancer care are many, but it’s important to acknowledge the drawbacks as well.

A telehealth visit cannot replace a physical exam with a dermatologist. This is because you may have developed cancerous lesions or precancers on an area of your body that is difficult to see. It can also be challenging for an individual to know when to seek treatment for a mole or skin growth. 

When pursuing telehealth services for skin cancer management, schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. There are several apps for your phone that claim to be able to identify possible skin cancer lesions. Studies show that these apps often misdiagnose skin cancers as healthy skin and sometimes even diagnose the wrong type of skin cancer. 

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Skin Cancer

To schedule a telehealth visit for skin cancer, call your dermatologist’s office to inquire about the options and billing practices. If your healthcare provider does not offer telehealth services, ask for a referral to one who does. It may be helpful to also call your insurance company to ask about their telehealth policy and billing practices.

Once you have scheduled the appointment, ask the clinic representative if the visit will take place over the phone or video chat and how long it would take.

Your dermatologist’s office will need to obtain your consent to evaluate and treat you virtually before the appointment can take place. You will need to provide an electronic signature in your patient portal prior to the appointment. 

Preparing for a skin cancer telehealth visit with your dermatologist can take some extra time. If you are scheduling a visit about a new skin growth, sore, or mole, your practitioner may request photos before the appointment. Feel free to use your smartphone or digital camera.

Take several photos of the concerning skin growth. It will be helpful for your healthcare provider if you are able to place a ruler next to the growth so that they can evaluate its size as well. If you are having trouble accessing the growth or mole on your own, ask a friend or loved one to take the picture.

On the day of your appointment, prepare a space at home where you will be able to meet with the healthcare provider free from distractions. Charge your device and download any software needed for the call beforehand. Ask your dermatologist’s office for a direct phone number to call in case you are disconnected during the visit. 

Make sure you will be able to show your practitioner the skin growth. If the skin area is not easily accessible, wear loose clothing that allows you to show the area while remaining as covered as possible. Make a list of any questions you may have for the healthcare provider, and keep a pen and paper handy for taking notes. 

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for Skin Cancer?

Billing policies for telehealth services for skin cancer treatment and screenings vary by state and insurance provider. A good place to check is the National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Center, which offers a database of telehealth billing policies by state.

It’s best to call your provider directly to find out their current payment structure in your state. For example, a telehealth visit to evaluate a new cold sore could range from $14 to $59 depending on the provider.

What Happens During the Visit

Once you and your dermatologist have both logged on to the appointment, the meeting will feel very similar to an in-person appointment. If you sent photos of the growth or sore beforehand, your healthcare provider will discuss them with you and point out any concerning traits. 

For appointments concerning a new skin finding, your dermatologist will ask you about any symptoms such as pain or numbness and tingling at the site. Your practitioner will also ask you how long you have had the growth and how it has changed over time.

Be prepared to discuss the growth’s shape, size, color, and any other characteristics. After examining the growth, your healthcare provider will determine if further testing is needed and explain why. Find out when your practitioner wants to see you in person and what the tests will entail. 

For follow-up appointments after skin cancer treatment, your healthcare provider will ask to see the site of your biopsy or surgery. They will also ask about your healing and if you have developed any new symptoms, such as a fever or pain. This is a good opportunity to ask any questions about treatment and future procedures. 

For any type of skin cancer appointment, keeping a list of questions with you will be helpful. Grab a pen and paper as well if you decide to take notes during the appointment. It’s possible that your practitioner will prescribe a new medication or order additional tests during a telehealth visit.

A biopsy or lab test will need to be conducted in person. Ask your healthcare provider when to schedule your test and how long the results usually take. 

During an in-person skin cancer visit, you are entitled to the protection of your health information, and the same goes for virtual visits. Providers offering telehealth visits must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and protect your health information during and after the appointment.

This includes any photos of your skin that you have sent to your practitioner for evaluation, as well as identifying factors such as your name, date of birth, and diagnosis. Healthcare providers may use any non-public-facing remote communication tool to communicate with patients.

A Word From Verywell

Taking advantage of your dermatologist’s telehealth services can be a convenient way to access the skin cancer care that you need at any time. Virtual visits may be especially helpful for determining if your new skin growth requires a biopsy or further evaluation.

Consider using telehealth visits for any new skin growths, sores, or moles that you are concerned about. However, always keep in mind that annual in-person skin checks with a dermatologist are an essential part of catching skin cancer early.

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12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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