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Closing the Care Gap: Teledermatology Thrives in Tennessee

It was around middle school anatomy class when I first learned that the body’s largest organ is not the liver or the lungs, or even the brain – it’s the skin.

In addition to producing new skin cells, regulating internal temperature, aiding in hydration and determining skin color, the epidermis or outermost layer serves as the first line of protection against ultraviolet radiation, pathogens and harmful chemicals.

But exposure to the outside world comes with added risks. In fact, as many as one in three Americans suffer skin disease at any given time, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

While the need for care is present, access to care is still limited. A Merritt Hawkins survey finds the average national wait time to see a dermatologist is around five weeks, with greater disparity in rural areas of the country.

With a mission to “democratize dermatology,” Chattanooga-based startup, Cortina Health, is helping fill these gaps by offering nationwide care through telemedicine.

Founded in summer of 2022 by Dr. Reid Maclellan, Cortina provides board-certified dermatology to all 50 states completely online.

A plastic surgeon and adjunct professor at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Maclellan formulated the idea for Cortina while honeymooning in the Italian Alps.

While traveling through Cortina c’Ampezzo, Italy, Maclellan noticed a significant improvement in the clarity of his wife’s skin and the difference it made in her self-confidence.

“The best part about [the trip] was seeing my wife coming out of her own shell and being comfortable in her own skin for the first time,” Maclellan says. “We were taking photos and putting them on Instagram with no filter attached. It was really a wonderful experience.”

Image of Dr. Reid Maclellan. Photographer: Abdiel Vallejo-Lopez

Maclellan returned from his trip and set out to recreate the clear skin formula he discovered in the Dolomite Mountains. He left his full-time practice and promptly launched Cortina.

The company now operates out of offices in Warehouse Row, working with board-certified dermatologists in each state to diagnose and treat over 3,000 different skin diseases. Cortina also provides personalized medications for ailments like acne, eczema and hair loss through its in-house compounding pharmacy.

Patients fill out a dynamic questionnaire and submit images for an online consultation. A board-certified dermatologist then reviews the information, answers questions, and recommends treatment.

“Studies show that 80% of skin disease can be treated completely virtually,” Maclellan says. “Why don’t more people choose this? Because no one had created an environment that works for both doctors and patients… We’re leveraging next-gen technology that allows doctors to move at the speed they want to move and makes [treatment] more efficient and effective.”

Maclellan, a fifth-generation Chattanoogan, came back to Chattanooga from Boston, captivated by the low cost of living and the world’s fastest internet speeds. Despite tech industry challenges, he’s been able to recruit 20 people to Cortina’s Chattanooga-based team by offering a higher quality of life and above-market wages compared to other Silicon Valley-based startups.  

Image courtesy of Cortina Health.

“We have literally everything a technologist could ever want,” Maclellan says. “We have the fastest internet in the world, a sprawling urban community overlooking the river, great suburban schools for those who already have families… Best of all, a growing tech community.”

In its sophomore year of operation, Maclellan evaluates Cortina’s success based on its consistent provision of affordable and accessible care to over 100,000 patients throughout its existence. Maclellan envisions a future where the gathered data can be utilized to discover treatments for currently untreatable diseases.

“The best part of my job is knowing that we’re really making a difference. As a surgeon I can only treat one patient at a time… By forming the infrastructure and environment of Cortina and building the greatest team of caregivers in existence we can care for hundreds of thousands of more people than I could ever see in my lifetime,” Maclellan says.

Learn more about Cortina’s offerings and services, here.

To see why more tech companies are choosing Chattanooga, visit greaterchatt.com.

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