Outcomes of referral to dermatology for suspicious lesions: Implications for teledermatology

Kate V. Viola, Whitney L. Tolpinrud, Cary P. Gross, Robert S. Kirsner, Suguru Imaeda, Daniel G. Federman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Objectives: To determine the proportion of suspicious lesions referred by nondermatologists that are found to be malignant and the number of incidental skin cancers identified at the time of dermatology referral. Design: Retrospective cohort study. Setting: Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System. Patients: Four hundred patients referred by nondermatologists for skin lesions suspected of being malignant between January 1, 2006, through December 31, 2009. Main Outcome Measures: Data collected included the type of referring provider, the final diagnosis by the dermatologist, and the number and type of incidental lesions. Results: Only 22.0% of the index lesions (ie, the lesions that prompted the referral) were found to be cancerous. In aggregate, 149 cancerous lesions were noted in 98 patients. However, only 88 (59.1%) were identified in the index lesion; 111 incidental lesions were biopsied by the consulting dermatologist, with 61 (55.0%) additional skin cancers identified. Twelve of the 61 incidental cancers (19.7%) were found in patients whose index lesion was clinically benign and was not biopsied. Conclusions: Nondermatologists may benefit from focused educational initiatives on skin cancer detection, particularly the significance of the total body skin examination and the expectations for and limitations of teledermatology. A substantial proportion of malignant lesions was incidentally identified by the consulting dermatologist in addition to the primary lesion of concern. The use of teledermatology to assess a specific lesion of concern may be associated with underdiagnosis of clinically significant lesions that are not appreciated by the referring physician. Therefore, teledermatology must not be used as a substitute for a total body skin examination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)556-560
Number of pages5
JournalArchives of dermatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology


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