NHSE accelerates teledermatology programme with July 2023 roll-out target

NHS England has announced the expansion and accelerated roll-out of their teledermatology programme, with the aim of helping patients receive faster skin cancer diagnoses and treatment.

NHSE describes how using a dermatoscope, a lens “the size of a 50p piece that can be attached to a phone camera”, high spec images of spots, moles or lesions can be produced, before being analysed by specialist dermatologists, or in some cases, by AI.

With teledermatology only currently in use in around 15 percent of trusts, the plan is for it to be rolled out to all areas of the country by July 2023.

Dermatoscope use is also being expanded across GP services, in the hopes that it can support people living in rural communities to get a faster diagnosis without the need to travel for a specialist appointment. In addition, NHS trusts have been asked to expand the use of teledermatology within community diagnostic centres to support access.

With regards to use of AI in teledermatology, NHSE notes that they are trialling the use of magnifying lenses that use AI to assess skin lesions for the presence of cancer “within seconds”.

The AI assessment trial will be used primarily alongside clinician assessments, but “it is hoped it will provide both faster and more accurate skin cancer detection”. An earlier testing phase has shown that the device “helped avoid around 10,000 unneeded face-to-face appointments”.

NHSE highlights how teledermatology can help hospitals with patient flow and tackling their backlog, sharing that “some hospitals are seeing virtually all patients diagnosed and treated for skin cancer within two months of an urgent GP referral thanks to teledermatology”.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard has commented: “There is no denying that increased demand has placed huge pressure on services, but 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.”