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Healthcare Professionals

COVID-19: Clinical guidelines for the management of dermatology patients remotely

Published 23.03.2020

Teledermatology: Advice and Guidance, teletriage, video consultation and remote working

As hospital services come under increasing pressure and dermatologists are re-deployed to front-line services, clinicians need to work differently. Departments will need to rapidly adapt to run significantly reduced services to support dermatology care, both in the short and long term. The focus is to reduce patient travel to GP and provider organisations while maintaining continuity of care.

This guidance should be used to help dermatology units maintain urgent services, optimise use of medical staff, minimise additional work for GPs, and provide continuity of care with virtual patient management where possible. Dermatologists will need to comply with their own commissioners and organisations’ guidance in this unprecedented situation; this document aims to provide guidance and share good practice.

Key principles:

  1. Streamline skin cancer patients on 2WW pathways, using teledermatology to triage referrals and book patients directly to surgery where possible
  2. Manage urgent / on-call patients and in-patient referrals using secure nhs.net email or mobile messaging apps where possible
  3. Redirect new patients through Advice and Guidance services where possible rather than referral
  4. Manage referred patients by switching face-to-face clinics to teleconsultation +/- video consultation where possible (new and follow-up)
  5. Optimise remote access to allow  dermatology staff to continue to provide patient care from home if required
  6. Facilitate virtual staff team meetings to coordinate patient care

Further information about these key principles is detailed below.

1. 2 week wait patients

Ensure that booking slots and clinic templates are adjusted to protect 2ww and urgent slots. Consider changing directly bookable 2WW services to Referral Assessment Services (RAS) with images attached, to optimise triage +/- directly book patients to skin surgery. If teledermatology is used for 2WW triage patients should ideally have their skin lesions photographed by a GP with dermoscopic training or by appointment with a medical photographer. Patient images are unlikely to be adequate for suspected melanoma / pigmented lesion triage, but may allow triage of patients with squamous cell carcinoma direct to surgery. 

Secure clinical image smartphone apps (e.g. Consultant Connect® and Pando®) can aid clinical image capture in primary care. Triage should ideally be carried out by a dermatology consultant (core member of LSMDT/SSMDT).  

2WW triage models are described in Dermatology Outpatient Case Studies December 2019: Using technology to enhance service delivery

2. Urgent / on-call and emergency in-patient consultations

NHSX has produced Information Governance Advice recognising the unprecedented challenges we are all facing during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, particularly when there is a need to share information quickly. This advice is endorsed by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the National Data Guardian and NHS Digital: COVID-19 Information Governance Advice

Mobile messaging can be used to communicate with colleagues and patients/service users as needed, including commercial applications such as WhatsApp where there is no practical alternative. Consider what type of information you are sharing and with whom, and as much as possible limit the use of personal/confidential patient information. Commercial medical smartphone apps such as Consultant Connect®, Pando® and Hospify® can support sharing of clinical information securely between healthcare professionals. Departments may set up a central nhs.net email addressor use individual nhs.net mail for photographic images transfer between healthcare professionals

3. Advice and Guidance

Dermatology departments should encourage GPs to consider Advice and Guidance (A&G) requests, or other established teledermatology pathways, rather than routine referral where possible. Advice and Guidance services can be provided through the NHS e-Referral service (e-RS) or commercial platforms.  

See guidance from NHSD: e-RS features that many help organisations during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation: Advice and Guidance

Standard NHS Advice and Guidance services involve GP / Consultant communication rather than patient / Consultant communication. However a number of platforms are already in use in primary care which can allow patients to send photographic images to the GP securely (e.g. eConsult® and accuRx ®), and these images can be attached to Advice and Guidance requests to reduce patient travel.For patients having images taken in the GP surgery, smartphone apps (e.g. Consultant Connect ® and Pando ®) can allow easy capture and transfer of images into A&G requests by primary care staff.

Dermatology departments with existing teledermatology Advice and Guidance or other teledermatology services should work with local GPs / commissioners to mobilise these services rather than referrals where possible. Consider working with regional dermatology departments to temporarily open wider A&G services or cross-cover for colleagues. Support for dermatology departments who do not currently run an Advice and Guidance teledermatology service is available through the BAD or using the NHS A&G toolkit: NHS e-RS Advice and Guidance Toolkit

Although A&G usually involves direct GP and Consultant communication, a wider referrer and provider workforce may be appropriate in the response to COVID-19, including non-Consultant grade doctors and specialist nurses, in order to free up senior front-line staff for acute care.

4. Managing routine referrals

Patients should be offered the opportunity for a telephone or video consultation at their previously allocated face-to-face appointment time-slot if possible. Trusts may already have an established videoconferencing solution such as NHS Attend Anywhere® or accuRx®. 

COVID-19 Information Governance Advice encourages the use of videoconferencing to carry out consultations with patients and service users to reduce the spread of COVID 19, using video conferencing tools such as Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime, as well as commercial products designed specifically for this purpose. The consent of the patient or service user is implied by them accepting the invite and entering the consultation. Safeguard personal/confidential patient information in the same way you would with any other consultation.

Departments may choose to set up a central nhs.net email for photographic images to be sent through for review by the Consultant to assist teleconsultation. Patients should be advised that emails sent from personal email addresses to nhs.net are not guaranteed to be encrypted. Voice recognition software (eg M-modal®) is available in some Trusts to support clinic letter documentation.

Routine dermatology referrals are likely to decrease during the coronavirus pandemic, referred patients will continue to be added to provider waiting lists, with uncertainty as to when they can be seen. NHS Digital has produced advice on managing routine referrals, monitoring provider worklists and managing cancellations: e-RS features that many help organisations during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation

5. Providing patient care from home

Members of staff may be away from their usual place of work and isolating for different reasons. Many dermatologists will already have hospital laptops with Virtual Private Network (VPN) access to hospital systems from home. Hardware requests for laptops, and issuing of VPN licences, is being accelerated in many hospitals – please discuss with your hospital Chief Clinical Information Officer, service manager and IT teams.

Hospital-approved laptops with VPN and smartcard access can allow dermatologists working from home to provide:

  • Electronic Advice and Guidance to GPs
  • Teletriage of GP referrals
  • Telephone consultations with access to electronic patient records and  blood results

Commercial platforms used through NHS contracts enable users to work on non-NHS equipment from home within Virtual Private Networks.

6. Virtual staff team meetings

NHS mail, Zoom®, Microsoft Teams® or Cisco WebEx® are widely used platforms to maintain team communication throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Further information

BAD teledermatology: /healthcare-professionals/teledermatology

BAD Clinical Services Unit: clinicalservices@bad.org.uk 

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