Transformation Directorate

How teledermatology is shaping the future of NHS care

Over the last two years, NHS England has worked tirelessly to champion the adoption and use of digital technology and innovation within the NHS. Over this time, we’ve seen significant change to the way we deliver care. This has come about partly in response to the pandemic, but also as part of wider recognition that digital solutions can really help us improve how we do things and give patients the best possible experience of care.

The National Teledermatology Investment Programme (NTIP), which ran between March 2021 and March 2022, is part of this focus on innovation. Since its inception, the NTIP has funded 28 clinical commissioning groups and seven trusts across England, enabling them to put digital tools in place to help improve dermatology care for patients and shorten waiting times. This funding covered licensing for secure image-sharing applications, dermatoscopes and other essential equipment. It also covered resourcing and training, so that local areas could make the necessary changes quickly and confidently, with national support when needed.

The investment also allowed GPs to benefit from easy and quick access to specialist advice and guidance from hospital dermatologists, meaning patients can be referred more quickly and efficiently for treatment and diagnosis.

We also provided local systems with a range of implementation support alongside the financial investments. This means they can share good practice, have access to quality training and build the expertise for using new technologies to improve patient care.

As part of the programme, we’ve seen a real variety of models of care being developed nationally, reflecting the diversity of needs across the country. These include a community photo hub, where people can attend clinic and have images taken of their skin and sent on for specialist advice, without having to go to hospital; a primary care triage clinic, meaning people can stay in their own community and don't have to go into hospital unnecessarily, and a specialist medical photography unit within a hospital so that consultants can benefit from really high quality images for rapid and accurate diagnoses. These are just a few examples of some of the great work that’s happening across the country thanks to our funding, and the national commitment to making digital technology part of everyday care for patients.

The work that is being implemented through the NTIP builds on the innovation showcased in our dermatology digital playbook. The playbook has been updated to include many new case studies from across the country showing innovative ways to improve patient care through technology.

Thanks to the popularity of the dermatology playbook, we’ve seen the burgeoning of an organic community of support for those areas implementing digital technology into patient pathways, and we’ve found the same is true of the NTIP. We are witnessing a similar community of practice evolve, enabling regions to share learning and experiences and help each other navigate issues and celebrate successes along the way.

Our team has worked closely with our colleagues at the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), including Tanya Bleiker, president, and Carolyn Charman, clinical advisor, both of whom are also practising consultant dermatologists. This support has helped spearhead good practice across the country and allowed us to fund even more systems in order to provide increased advice and guidance to clinicians and patients.

The final impact report for the NTIP shows the many benefits seen by ICSs during their implementation of teledermatology (FutureNHS login required). It is published alongside a bank of case studies which show the range of care models and tools adopted thanks to our funding and provide essential reading to anyone wanting to emulate the transformation achieved by participants in the NTIP. It is clear that, when offered as a choice alongside other options, there are real, tangible benefits to patients and clinicians alike when offering digital technology throughout the care pathway. This is something that we will see built upon more and more in the near future as we continue the direction of travel towards a new, post-pandemic future in healthcare.