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Why Dermatology Wait Times Are Longer

March 27, 2024
Piction Health

Dermatology appointments in the United States can be notoriously difficult to secure.  In 2023, some dermatologists say that it is not an overstatement to say that wait times are now usually in the months.  In certain institutions in some areas like Boston, can be more than 8 months, which is a serious issue of access.

This can be particularly challenging for those who rely on dermatologists to diagnose and treat a range of skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions, including moles, melanomas, and other skin cancers.

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One of the main reasons for long wait times is a simple issue of supply and demand. The US is experiencing a shortage of dermatologists, particularly in rural areas where patients may need to travel long distances to access a dermatologist. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there are only around 13,000 dermatologists practicing in the country, which is not sufficient to meet the growing demand for their services.  Thought of in another way, this means each dermatologist in the US must over serve 25, 000 patients.

Another factor contributing to long wait times is the specialized nature of dermatology. Dermatologists are experts in diagnosing and treating a wide range of skin conditions and are often in high demand for this reason. Additionally, many dermatologists offer cosmetic procedures such as Botox and chemical peels, which can further increase the demand for these services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated wait times for dermatologists, as many practices have had to reduce their patient load or temporarily shut down. This has led to a backlog of patients who need to be seen by a dermatologist, which has further exacerbated wait times.

Patients who require dermatology services may need to be persistent and patient in securing an appointment. It is important to prioritize skin health and seek medical attention for any concerning skin conditions. In advocating for themselves as patients, they may explore other care options, such as telehealth services, which can provide faster or more convenient access to dermatology care.  Other strategies include going into urgent care or other primary care centers to get a referral to try to accelerate their wait time, or to call derm offices day after day and inquiring about same-day openings.

To address the issue of long wait times, although it may seem prudent to increase the number of dermatologists practicing in the US, at the time being, medical schools and residency programs have a cap on the number of training opportunities for dermatologists.  There is not likely to be an increase in the number of dermatologists, and especially not in the short-term, so one strategy may be to increase the scale and reach of existing dermatologists to serve more patients with telehealth and other means.

In conclusion, the shortage of dermatologists in the US, coupled with high demand and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, are the main reasons for long wait times for dermatologist appointments. While seeking an appointment may require some persistence and patience, it is important to prioritize skin health and seek medical attention for any concerning skin conditions. If you have a skin condition that is particularly concerning, such as a mole or suspected cancer, know that there are options available for high-quality, timely dermatology care, whether through self-advocacy such as persistence of calls to schedule at a dermatology clinic, self-advocacy and getting a referral from a primary care provider, accessible tele-health, or others.