Pay-per-use app aims to reduce wait times for dermatologist consults

DermaGo web app provides online consultation so people can avoid wait times for dermatologist referrals.

Creators say app helps people with busy schedules, in remote locations

Leslie McBeth did not have time to go to a dermatologist in person. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

A team of dermatologists in Quebec have created a web-based app that allows doctors to consult with patients online in order to cut wait times for referrals. 

Emilie Bourgeault, the co-founder of DermaGo, said she and a colleague got the idea after seeing an increase in patients. She attributed the reason to growing awareness around skin cancer in recent years, although many patients wait months for an in-person appointment through government health insurance. 

"Dermatology is a high-demand specialty," she said over Skype. "Our system can't absorb the demand." 

Bourgeault said it's especially true in remote communities, like northern Ontario, where patients would see a family doctor, but then have to travel to cities like Sudbury or even Toronto to see a specialist. 

"This allows them to do the consult at home, not miss any work, not travel long distances." 

Users of DermaGo can upload photos of their condition and receive a response from a dermatologist. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

DermaGo, the first dermatology service of its kind in Canada, allows users to upload photos of their skin condition and receive a response from one of six dermatologists on the roster with a diagnosis. The user pays a fee for a consult, and the price depends on how quickly they require a response. 

The public health care system in Ontario also offers remote consulting, but patients still have to go through a family doctor.

"We're trying to increase access and give choice to patients," said Bourgeault. 

She also stresses the importance of being innovative in health care, and to keep up with technology, all while sticking to the same guidelines as when a patient gets an in-person consult. 

Bourgeault says the program is becoming popular with young professionals like Leslie McBeth who lives in Toronto but travels extensively for work.

McBeth had noticed some dark spots on her face, but couldn't make the time for an appointment. 

"I'm never actually home," she said. "I just couldn't make my calendar work." 

Dr. Robert Solomon is one of six dermatologists on DermaGo. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

A friend suggested using the app, which connected her with dermatologist Robert Solomon, who is based in Toronto. 

"It's a visual specialty," said Solomon. "So, it's convenient for patients and it's good for me."

Solomon said many of his patients are no-shows, so he can spend the extra time he has practising via telemedicine. 

McBeth says she would rather pay than wait, or go down the route of self-diagnosing her symptoms on the internet. 

"You can go down that rabbit hole when you start to Google that weird mark on your skin," she said.