I recently read an article in Women’s Health about the difficulty patients experience trying to get an appointment with a dermatologist, even patients who have found a suspicious growth/spot. The article scared me, both for myself and for others. The article described long wait times in areas of the country with a dearth of dermatologists, but also in large cities.
Areas with fewer dermatologists have more melanoma deaths
35 days was cited as the average wait time in a midsize city to get an appointment with a dermatologist for a skin exam to detect a suspected melanoma. The average for large cities is 32 days. For some women in rural areas and medium size towns the closest dermatologist can be 100 miles away. The article cites the scary statistic that areas with fewer dermatologists have more deaths from melanoma.1
Waiting 6 weeks for an appointment
Reading the article reminded me of a call I received last summer from a friend who had found a suspicious spot on her leg. She called me to describe this spot that she had never seen before, and said it “didn’t look good,” that it was “irregularly shaped and itchy”. I told her to call her dermatologist (she has one) and make an appointment. She called me back a few minutes later, very upset, and said they couldn’t fit her in until about 6 weeks later. She was worried that if this growth was cancerous/malignant, it would get worse while she waited for her appointment. But she felt she had no choice but to wait. Making an appointment with a new dermatologist would take even longer. My friend ended up being fine. When she finally saw the doctor, she was told it was nothing to worry about.
The waiting game is a common one
I told this story of waiting for an appointment to another friend today, a friend who has had two basal cell carcinomas. She told me that she had to wait for an appointment to see a local dermatologist after she found a new suspicious growth, but the wait was more like a few weeks, not 2 months. I, too, had to wait for an appointment to see my dermatologist when I noticed a spot that ended up being my second basal cell carcinoma. I had to wait about 4 weeks for an appointment, and then I waited two weeks for them to call me back with the results of my biopsy.
Advice for dealing with dermatologist deserts
So my question to everyone who reads this is, what do you do, what can you do to get an appointment with a dermatologist when you find a suspicious spot on your skin? Here’s my advice:
…If you don’t have a dermatologist, ask your PCP or any doctor you see for a recommendation or referral. Or ask friends, family, coworkers, anyone who has had a spot removed, anyone at all whom you trust.
…Ask the doctor’s office/receptionist if you can be put on a waiting list. If they say there’s no waiting list, tell them that you are going to call every day to ask if there is a cancellation. Be nice, be polite, but call.
…If your dermatologist doesn’t have any openings, ask to see another derm in the practice.
And, if you haven’t found a suspicious spot, but you want to play it safe, consider making an appointment for a full body check, for two reasons. One, so that you will be checked and will know that you’re hopefully okay or that if something is found, it will be taken care of. And two, so that you have a dermatologist to see yearly and if and when you ever find anything on your skin that you want to have checked.
Does anyone have any other advice? What do you do and what do you recommend doing to get an appointment with a dermatologist?