Virtual assistants in teledermatology can improve quality of life for patients with psoriasis
A prospective study found that patients and providers saw benefits when using a virtual assistant as part of a teledermatology program.
Integrating a virtual assistant program into teledermatology for patients with psoriasis improved quality of life (QOL) and showed good user-friendliness, according to results of a one-year prospective study. The findings, published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, are consistent with previous research suggesting that virtual assistants can elevate teledermatology.
Teledermatology typically includes in-home apps and platforms where patients can share images with dermatologists to track treatment progress and responses. It provides additional opportunities for communication between patients and dermatologists between visits, which can lead to better treatment outcomes and allows dermatologists to review many cases in a shorter time. Several psoriasis tracking apps already exist, along with patient wellness tools.
Integrating virtual assistants, or chatbots, into teledermatology systems provides an additional resource for patients. These programs perform tasks or services for patients by voice or text. They have been tested in several contexts, including correcting misinformation in forums with automated responses. Studies have also shown that virtual assistants or smartphone apps improve medication adherence.
“Online care compared to in-person care showed equivalent improvements in disease severity in patients with psoriasis,” the authors wrote. “Improvement in quality of life for online and in-person care was also studied, which found that the online model and in-person care had similar improvement for psoriatic patients.”
The new study builds on previous findings and assessed the impact virtual assistants can have on the quality of life of patients with psoriasis. The virtual assistant program in this study was a smartphone chatbot running through Signal, an end-to-end encrypted messaging platform. In addition to quality of life measures, participants were asked about platform usability via the System Usability Scale (SUS).
Thirty psoriasis patients and 4 healthcare professionals (3 dermatologists and 1 nurse) participated in the study. Eligible patients used the platform for at least 4 months depending on when they registered during the year, and they answered the final satisfaction survey. Quality of life surveys included the Psoriasis Quality of Life (PSOLIFE) and Dermatology Life Quality Index (DLQI) questionnaires. Patients used the virtual assistant for 52 remote consultations with providers and 29 photos submitted by 4 patients (13.3% of the cohort) were stored in the virtual assistant.
Overall, patients’ quality of life improved with the use of the platform. The average PSOLIFE score decreased from 63.8 to 64.8 and the average DLQI score decreased from 4.4 to 2.8. Adherence to treatment also improved slightly, possibly because patients can pay more attention to treatment while using a tool related to their disease. The increased availability of physicians via messaging may also be a factor. The system had an SUS score of 70.1, indicating above-average usability. In the final questionnaire, 73.3% of patients and all healthcare professionals liked the idea of using a virtual assistant after the end of the study.
Additionally, 83.3% of patients said that being able to contact their dermatologist via a messaging app between visits gave them a sense of security or peace of mind. Face-to-face consultations have generally continued at the same pace as before the introduction of the virtual assistant, emphasizing the role of the assistant as a supplement to in-person appointments rather than a replacement.
Overall, the study supports the use of virtual assistants in teledermatology for patients with psoriasis.
“In the future, we will consider integrating the virtual assistant into the hospital’s electronic medical record and its use for other chronic diseases,” the authors conclude. “We will also carry out detailed assessments of the long-term effects on healthcare professionals, such as the possible burnout created by incorporating virtual assistants into their working hours.”
Roca S, Almenara M, Gilaberte Y, et al. When virtual assistants meet teledermatology: validation of a virtual assistant to improve the quality of life of psoriatic patients. Int J Environ Res Public Health. Published online November 5, 2022. doi:10.3390/ijerph192114527