Quick action on skin issues with Tele-Derm

NHG polyclinics offer e-consultation service in tie-up with National Skin Centre

Dr Yew Yik Weng, consultant at the National Skin Centre, demonstrating how the Tele-Derm e-consultation service works.
Dr Yew Yik Weng, consultant at the National Skin Centre, demonstrating how the Tele-Derm e-consultation service works. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Instead of having to travel to the National Skin Centre (NSC), in Mandalay Road near Tan Tock Seng Hospital, for an appointment, last week, Mr Ron Chua dropped by the Hougang Polyclinic, about 20 minutes from where he lives.

And over the Internet, the 23-year-old university student consulted an NSC dermatologist, saving him "a lot of time and effort".

"I thought it was quite convenient as I didn't have to make another trip there (National Skin Centre) on another day," said Mr Chua.

Called Tele-Derm, the e-consultation service was piloted at the polyclinic in January last year and rolled out to eight other National Healthcare Group (NHG) polyclinics by last December.

It gives access to doctors at NSC. Patients with less complex and non-urgent skin conditions such as acne, eczema or hives have been able to use the service, a joint initiative by the NSC and NHG polyclinics.

The service is one example of recent efforts to ramp up telemedicine here. A separate national video-conferencing system for medical consultations was also launched in April.

Six public healthcare institutions are using the video-conferencing system, which is part of the Smart Health initiative under the broader Smart Nation drive, spearheaded by the Integrated Health Information Systems.

For the e-consult service, patients have to be referred by polyclinic doctors trained in family practice dermatology.

Doctors there take high-resolution photos of the patient's skin condition, and upload these, along with the patient's case notes and medical history, onto the secure online platform.

A dermatologist at the NSC assesses the case, and messages his or her diagnosis to the polyclinic doctor through the platform. The consultation process between doctors takes about half an hour.

"Tele-Derm makes specialist skin consultation more accessible to the community and... brings about greater convenience to patients for treatment and follow-up, and also frees clinic appointment slots at the National Skin Centre for patients with more severe and complex conditions," said Associate Professor Tan Suat Hoon, director of the centre.

The waiting time for patients with non-urgent cases to visit a specialist at the skin centre has been reduced to about 40 days, added Prof Tan. This is about half the waiting time last year.

About 300 appointment slots at the National Skin Centre have been freed up from January last year to April this year, said Prof Tan.

The service was also expanded to inpatients at the Institute of Mental Health last November for dermatology issues. About 80 patients have used the service so far.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2017, with the headline Quick action on skin issues with Tele-Derm. Subscribe