We’ve all seen awareness campaigns. If you watched TV at all in the 1980s, you likely remember the This Is Your Brain on Drugs and The Crash Test Dummies. Indeed, awareness campaigns have been using imagery to capture our attention and change our attitudes and behaviors for decades. Recently, an Australian researcher highlighted the effectiveness of recent sun safety awareness campaigns in reducing the skin cancer rates of young Australians.

According to Professor David Whiteman, from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, over the period of 2000-2010, skin cancer rates dropped 10% in Australians under the age of 25. These young people grew up watching public service announcements aimed to encourage people to be safe in the sun. Since most cancer-causing skin damage occurs before age 30, these “sun safety kids” have grown into adults who use sunscreen and wear hats out of habit. They are much less likely to develop malignant melanoma.

Monday, May 5, is Melanoma Monday, which kicks of a month-long international awareness campaign to encourage the prevention and early detection of skin cancers. First Derm, an online dermatology app by iDoc24, wants to see a similar decrease in skin cancer rates in the United States. First Derm is hitting the streets during Skin Cancer Awareness month, offering free screenings in its hometown of San Francisco, as well as using social media messages and attracting press to raise awareness.

But awareness about preventative measures is only the first step to getting a handle on the seemingly ever-increasing skin cancer rates in the United States. “In addition to prevention, we need to focus on diagnosing skin cancer cases earlier, and treated faster,” according to Dr. Alexander Börve, CEO of First Derm. “Using our dermoscope digitalizes the referral process. It allows medical professionals to take high quality pictures, and then send them through our app for diagnosis by a board-certified dermatologist.”

The average wait time for a dermatologist is the United States is roughly 29 days, according to a recent MerrittHawkins survey. Armed with an iPhone, a dermoscope, and iDoc24 PRO, non-specialists can use a digital referral to get a diagnosis in a matter of days.

    • Digital dermatologic referrals save patients time away from work for possibly unnecessary and more costly specialist appointments. They can also provide much needed reassurance, saving days of prolonged anxiety.
    • Digital dermatologic referrals save dermatologists time. The reduction in unnecessary office visits frees specialists up to perform more emergency surgeries. Using digital referrals, dermatologists saw skin cancer patients faster, and the wait for treatment was greatly reduced. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer – is detected and treated before spreading to the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent. Other skin cancers – basal cell and squamous cell – are highly curable if found and treated early.
    • Digital dermatologic referrals save insurance companies money. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that we spent more than $2.36 billion on skin cancer treatments in 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available). Diagnosing and treating more quickly saves lives and dollars (for expensive medications and radiation).

The lifesaving potential of this technology is huge, but it won’t have a significant impact on population health on its own. At iDoc24, we hope that combining our proprietary technology with awareness campaigns, we can work to reduce the rate of skin cancers in the United States, and, at the same time, increase survival rates.

How can you help?

    • Are you an investor, insurance company, or healthcare organization looking to establish telehealth or mHealth dermatology? Contact us!
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