Finding a Derm in a Derm Desert

It’s a sad fact: The U.S. is a country where available and easy health care is not guaranteed. Especially when it comes to skin cancer treatment. For some, the issue that stands between them and a skin care appointment is distance.

In our 2018 Skin Cancer In America study, it was revealed that the majority of respondents were traveling more than 15 miles for treatment. In fact, only 31% of those surveyed were able to receive care within 15 miles of their home.

Everyone else is traveling farther: 25% are traveling 15 to 30 miles, 21% are traveling 31 to 60 miles and 9% are traveling 61 to 100 miles. Hardest of all, 14% of respondents are traveling more than 100 miles to receive skin cancer treatment.

But distance wasn’t the only issue preventing fast, available treatment. Some face long wait times and possibly delayed diagnosis.

Skip the long wait times

For some, the biggest hurdle is waiting for an appointment time. According to one recent study, the average wait time for a dermatology appointment in the U.S. increased from 28.8 days in 2014 to 32.3 days in 2017 — over a month.1 In large part, wait times have increased as more and more patients seek care for non-emergency procedures, from Botox to hair removal. In some parts of the country, wait times can be two months or more.2

Waiting so long for an appointment is not only stressful, it can be unsafe. Skin cancer, like any cancer, needs to be diagnosed early.

If you are in such a predicament where you have a mole or other growth that you believe to be cancerous, experts have advised that you say this: “I have a mole that’s changing and/or bleeding, and I’m afraid it’s melanoma.”

These words will likely put you at the front of the line. If that tactic doesn’t work, ask to speak directly to a nurse. Or, call another doctor, one who recognizes the urgency of the situation.

Be persistent

Once you are on a waiting list with a doctor, one option is to politely call back regularly, every day if you can, and ask if there has been a cancellation. Odds are, sooner or later someone will cancel, and if you’re already calling the office, you’ll be among the first to know. This is an especially great strategy if you have a flexible schedule, or if you have a job that will allow you to take time during the day for an appointment.

Find a general practitioner who does biopsies

Because the distances and wait times to reach a dermatologist can be so great, you can also try making an appointment with a GP, or general practitioner. Many are trained in what to look for in early skin cancer detection. Moreover, many are also capable of removing anything suspicious.

Be your own advocate

Inside the exam room, the average appointment lasts just 10 minutes. To make the most of your doctor visit, spend time beforehand looking at your body for anything else you may wish to have examined. Take time in the shower or mirror examining your skin, checking for moles that look suspicious, or any other skin irregularities.

And, know that you can ask the doctor to teach you how to perform a self-exam. Ask where to look and what to look for.

Most likely, it could be another year before your next appointment, and you will want to do everything you can in the interim to make sure you’re your own best health advocate.

It is our hope that everyone seeking treatment not only receives care in a short timeframe, but also connects with the community for support, encouragement and feedback during the process.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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