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Do I Need a Dermatologist?

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Updated January 07, 2014

The first thing you need to know about picking a dermatologist is that you may not actually need a dermatologist. In fact, there are several types of health care providers who can take care of basic skin conditions.

Types of Providers

The following are descriptions of the different levels of health care providers:
  • Nurse Practitioner - A registered nurse (RN) who has further training in diagnosing and treating patients. s a general rule, NP's are very interested in patient education.
  • Physician Assistant - PA's have a 2-year training program instead of a 4-year medical school. Many specialize in certain fields just like doctors.
  • Primary Care Doctor - An MD or DO who specializes in internal medicine, family practice, or pediatrics.
  • Physician Specialist - Examples of specialists who take care of skin conditions include dermatologists, surgeons and allergists.
  • Subspecialist - These specialties are the most narrow and require the most training. Examples are plastic surgery, dermatopathology, and Moh's micrographic surgery.

Communicating with Your Provider

With all of these choices, where do you start? Most importantly, you should find a provider you can trust and communicate with comfortably. Communication is easier with someone who fits your personality and takes you seriously. If you're not sure whether your current provider can take care of your skin condition - ask. Here are some examples of questions to ask your provider:
  • Do you take care of patients with this type of skin condition?
  • What information can you give me about my rash?
  • When do you refer patients with rashes to another provider?
  • Who would you refer me to?

When to See Your Primary Care Provider

Generally, if you have a new rash, you should see your regular provider. Many skin conditions don't require a specialist to diagnose and treat. Some rashes are chronic, or long-term, requiring regular check-ups to keep them under control. You should consider seeing a dermatologist if your regular regimen is not working.

When to See a Dermatologist

Some conditions are pretty exclusively treated by a dermatologist. These include severe forms of common diseases such as acne, atopic dermatitis, and rosacea. Also included are uncommon diseases such as pemphigus, porphyria, and cutaneous lupus. Finally, most skin cancers are treated by a dermatologist, sometimes in conjunction with a surgeon.

Finding a Provider

To find a qualified provider in your area, most specialties have websites that list board-certified doctors in that specialty. You can call your state's medical board to see if a specific provider has had any complaints against him or her. Finally, ask your friends, people from the place of worship you attend, or community organizations you are involved in if they have recommendations. The good providers are usually well known.

Online Resources

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Dermatology
  4. Skin Diseases
  5. Miscellaneous
  6. Do I Need a Dermatologist?

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