Practice staff use a special lens – pictured alongside – which clips onto a standard iPhone to take a detailed close-up photograph of a mole or lesion , which is then emailed to specialists at The Mole Clinic, 200 miles away in London.
There, experts study the high quality image and provide a diagnosis which they email back to the surgery, often on the same day and no more than two days later. They determine if the mole is potentially cancerous – in which case the GP will refer the patient straight to hospital – or if it has no risk they will be advised they have no need to worry about it.
The TELEDerm service has been trialled by a number of practices in the town centre and neighbouring areas, including The Medical Centre, Frances Street, where patient Paul Hartshorne, 46, a full-time carer from Wheatley, praised the service he received.
He said: “I spotted a new mole on my back which I was a bit concerned about so I booked an appointment at the practice. The nurse took a photo of it using the iPhone and emailed it off. The practice then contacted me to say they had received the results and it was nothing to worry about, which was great news.
“I didn’t need a hospital appointment to get it checked out, it was all sorted at my local surgery.”
A follow-up study found that nearly 75 per cent of the 387 patients who used the service during the 15 month long trial period did not need referring to hospital as their skin condition was diagnosed as being non-cancerous by Mole Clinic specialists.
The number of Doncaster people visiting their GP because they are concerned about moles and lesions is on the increase, resulting in referrals to hospital consultants rising by nearly 40 per cent in the past two years alone. Currently, GPs refer around 1,000 Doncaster patients a year to consultants for suspected skin cancer investigations.
Dr Nick Tupper, Chair of NHS Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group, which has funded the devices, said: “We’re keen to bring services out of hospital and provide them in community settings where it is safe, practical and efficient to do so. This service can quickly identify those conditions that are not dangerous, which means that patients can have their fears allayed much quicker and the waiting times for those who really do need to see a skin specialist will reduce.
“New technology systems like this will grow in importance to help the NHS keep pace with the increasing demands placed on services.”