Norwich GPs trial mobile phone technology for skin blemish diagnosis

Norwich GP Anthony Lister with the new equipment.

Norwich GP Anthony Lister with the new equipment. - Credit: Archant

Doctors in Norwich are embracing new mobile phone technology by launching a service that aims to give a speeder diagnosis for patients concerned about a skin blemish.

Five GP practices in the Norwich area have begun the year-long trial, which uses a dermoscope, iPhone and mobile phone application to get an expert second opinion.

Officials from the Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) hope that the pilot will result in hundreds of patients being spared an unnecessary referral to hospital after seeing their GP with concerns about a mole or mark on their skin.

The practices at Yare Valley, Thorpewood Medical Practice, Beechcroft, Magdalen Medical Practice and West Pottergate have agreed to trial the hi-tech diagnostic service called TELEDerm, which could be rolled out across the city if it is deemed a success.

A dermoscope, fitted to an iPhone with a TELEDerm App, is used to record the patient's lesion history and take a high quality image, which is transmitted to specialists who can tell whether it is likely to be serious or harmless. Their full report is then relayed back to the GP, within 24 hours, for a decision on what the next steps should be.

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The new service comes after doctors took on greater responsibility and control over more of the NHS budget following the abolition of primary care trusts on April 1.

Dr Richard Bennett, from the Norwich CCG and a GP at Magdalen Medical Practice, said: 'It can sometimes be tricky to diagnose some types of skin lesions. If there is a high suspicion of cancer we will always refer to hospital but the TELEDerm technology offers GPs a really useful, speedy, second opinion.'

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'We hope this trial will help doctors to decide whether or not to refer their patient to hospital. This would make better use of NHS money because we would only be referring the right patients to hospital and helping reduce waiting lists.'

Last year, there were 3,200 referrals to hospital made in Norwich for dermatology problems and around 50pc turn out to be harmless. The technology has been used by the NHS in Kent, where it reduced referrals by as much as 70pc.

The number of patients diagnosed with the new technology will be capped at 450 and will be evaluated by independent experts at the University of East Anglia.

Dr John Ford, academic public health registrar at the university, said: 'TELEDerm has the potential to give patients a fast and effective service for common skin problems. We will be looking to see if this service reduces referrals to skin specialists in the hospital and if patients and doctors are happy with the quality. Measuring the success is important because it helps the NHS choose services which are high quality and best value for money.'

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