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Need a Derm? There’s an App for That.

Two San Diego doctors are changing how the medical world treats acne, one click at a time
David Lortscher and Nancy Satur

By Kayleigh Donahue Hodes | Photo by Amoreena Berg Photography

No matter where you live, the task of getting in to see a dermatologist can be a real headache—there’s the hassle of scheduling the appointment, the six-week wait for the day to finally arrive, then the actual schlep to the office.

“I was practicing in New Mexico, and I would have patients who drove across the state just to come see me—I thought it was crazy to go through all of that trouble when a lot of their skin issues could have easily been diagnosed over the phone,” says dermatologist and San Diego native David Lortscher, who has since moved back to San Diego and set up shop in Coronado. “It made me realize that for a lot of places in this country, there is very little access to specialists like a dermatologist.” This plight sparked his idea for PocketDerm, a new service that diagnoses and treats acne in patients through a website or mobile app.

Patients pay a monthly membership fee of $30, then answer an in-depth survey about their skin before uploading photos of their blemishes from their phones. Once Lortscher, an alum of Torrey Pines High School and UC San Diego,  or his partner, dermatologist Nancy Satur, has analyzed the profile, the doctors create a custom-blended prescription cream and ship it to the patient’s doorstep.

Some beauty companies have used phone apps and website quizzes as thinly veiled marketing gimmicks to sell their product lines, while others have employed the mail-order system, but with a limited number of products.

Lortscher says his program is different. “We’re trying to provide the quality of care you would receive if you came to see us in the office,” he says. “And we only give you one product, that has a personalized combination of ingredients in order to treat your specific acne and skin—we don’t want our users to feel like they need to do a bunch of steps.” Because the creams are prescription-strength treatments, Lortscher says they don’t have plans to create a cosmetic line of skincare to sell outside of the system. “We chose the membership model in order to establish an ongoing relationship with the patient, knowing they’d need regular follow-up and adjustments just like we do in the office,” he says.

Patients can also message their doctor with questions directly, set up a follow-up assessment to tweak their treatments, and end the service at any time.

The concept of telemedicine is nothing new—doctors have been using the telephone to help patients in remote areas since, well, the invention of the telephone—but there are some modern-day laws that have put Lortscher and Satur in a unique situation. Every state is different, but in general, a doctor needs to be licensed in both his state of residence and the patient’s home state in order to treat them remotely, which means the pair have been busy building quite the collection of licenses (combined, they are currently able to treat patients in 35 states; as the business expands they hope to be able to reach all 50). In addition to their accessibility, Lortscher says that after the initial launch phase of the acne program, they plan to grow the business in a different way: with anti-aging treatment. Lortscher says, “It’s a huge market to which we definitely think we could apply this type of service.”

Other things you can do with a smartphone

Pay rent

Rancho Peñasquitos-based realty co. SEPHTA Homes will accept cash or the virtual currency bitcoin, payable via smartphone.

Record your favorite show

AT&T U-Verse customers can use their phones as TV remotes, and set the DVR from anywhere.

Find a husband (or a hookup)

Tinder matches you with Facebook friends of friends. If you both “like,” it’s a match! An intro will follow.

Need a Derm? There’s an App for That.

David Lortscher and Nancy Satur

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