Telehealth refers to healthcare services done over a computer or phone, and it isn’t new technology. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, doctors frequently used this method to provide basic care to individuals in rural and underserved communities.

The use of telehealth has increased since the pandemic, however, with some people choosing these visits over in-person care.

Telehealth appointments are convenient for initial visits, consultations, and follow-up visits. You can see a doctor virtually for many minor concerns like an injury, infection, rash, or sore throat.

You can also schedule a telehealth visit for dermatological conditions like hidradenitis suppurativa (HS). Keep reading to learn what to expect during a virtual appointment for HS and when you should see a doctor in person.

HS is a chronic condition that causes boils or lumps underneath your skin. These boils can be painful and pus-filled, and they may rupture as they get bigger.

HS occurs when hair follicles become clogged with keratin. Keratin is a protein found in your skin, hair, and nails.

This can then lead to the development of bacteria. Eventually, it can cause the hair follicle to burst, which appears as boils and lumps on your skin.

The condition is sometimes found on parts of the body that rub together, such as the groin area, breasts, and armpits.

Since HS is a chronic condition, periodic visits with a dermatologist can help you manage flares and inflammation. Although the use of a topical antibiotic and over-the-counter pain medications can improve mild symptoms, you should see a doctor for treatment if you’re in severe pain.

Other treatments can include:

  • steroid injections to reduce inflammation and swelling
  • laser hair removal
  • retinoids
  • prescription pain medication
  • adalimumab (Humira), a biologic that stops inflammation by targeting the part of the immune system that causes an inflammatory response

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may hesitate to schedule in-person doctor appointments. If so, you can consider scheduling telehealth or virtual appointments to manage HS.

Telehealth allows you to schedule video conferencing appointments with a dermatologist from your home or work, using either a computer or smartphone. These appointments can also include telephone calls with a dermatologist.

You can expect the same level of care as a face-to-face visit with a doctor. You’ll discuss your current health and any concerns you have. If you’re using video conferencing software, a dermatologist can examine your skin during this appointment.

If it’s your first appointment, the doctor may be able to diagnose HS by looking at your skin and collecting a detailed history.

If it’s a follow-up appointment, an examination of your skin can help your doctor decide whether treatment is working.

Some dermatologists give their patients the option of uploading photos of their skin via a medical portal or through email before their appointment.

During a virtual appointment, your doctor can recommend treatment, prescribe medication, or schedule an in-person follow-up appointment.

Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend scheduling an in-person visit over a virtual one.

This might happen if a dermatologist suspects a malignant lesion or when HS (or another skin condition) doesn’t respond to therapy.

Your dermatologist’s office might decline a telehealth visit when you make the initial appointment. They could also schedule the initial appointment via telehealth, then schedule an in-person follow-up.

At some point, you’ll likely need to go into the office. You’d need to go into a doctor’s office for steroid injections to control inflammation and swelling, for example, or to get in-office biologic treatments.

An in-person visit is also necessary when HS doesn’t respond to treatment and you need other therapies. This may include surgical procedures to remove an inflamed lump or laser hair removal to get rid of hair follicles in areas prone to HS.

These procedures take place in a doctor’s office or an outpatient facility.

To prepare for your telehealth appointment, you may need to send your dermatologist photos of your skin prior to your appointment.

You should also prepare for your virtual appointment by speaking with your insurance company. Make sure your policy covers telehealth visits and ask about copays or coinsurance.

Keep in mind that some doctors don’t offer telehealth visits. If you prefer this type of appointment, you might need to find a different healthcare professional.

Prepare for your appointment by finding a quiet, well-lit location in your home or office to speak with your doctor. You can wear earbuds to block out any distractions if that’s helpful.

Before your scheduled visit, you’ll receive information on how to create an account with the telehealth site your doctor uses for appointments. This will involve visiting a website or perhaps downloading an app to your computer or smartphone.

Your doctor may also request information about your current medications, preferred pharmacy, primary care doctor, and health insurance provider. Keep this information nearby during your appointment.

Telehealth is a convenient and safe way to schedule doctor appointments with a dermatologist for managing HS. But depending on the extent of your condition, your dermatologist may request an in-person visit even if you’re a candidate for telehealth.

Understanding how these appointments work — and thoroughly preparing for them — can help put you at ease.