When to see dermatologist?

Does Medicare Cover Dermatology?

Medicare only offers limited coverage of cosmetic procedures, so if you are seeing a dermatologist for the treatment of wrinkles, for example, you may not be covered.

How can I find a dermatologist near me that accepts Medicare?

To find a dermatologist near you that accepts Medicare, you can use Medicare’s “physician compare” tool. To use the tool, simply type in your city and state and the keyword “dermatology.” Doctors and medical groups within 15 miles of your location should appear in the search results. This tool may also display performance information, such as patient ratings of clinicians.

Do you have more questions about Medicare coverage of dermatology? Feel free to enter your zip code on this page to browse Medicare plan options for Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D, and Medicare Supplement near your area. Or, if you prefer to get personalized assistance, contact eHealth to speak with a licensed insurance agent. We can help you find Medicare plan options that address your Medicare needs.

Problems Getting an Appointment with a Dermatologist

If you are having difficulty getting an appointment with a dermatologist, let the receptionist know that you are concerned about a possible melanoma, that you need to be seen quickly, and that you will take any time they can fit you in. Don’t take no for an answer. If you can’t get an appointment within one week, even after insisting that you suspect melanoma, you can:

  • Make an appointment with a board-certified general surgeon or plastic surgeon. They are trained in the safe removal of moles and early melanomas, and appointments are usually available sooner than with dermatologists.
  • Make an appointment with the dermatology department of a large hospital. Many have pigmented lesion clinics, melanoma centers, and/or dermatology departments where you can see a dermatologist without a referral (your insurance company may require a referral to pay for the visit). In Boston, for example, Mass General Hospital’s Melanoma Center and Pigmented Lesion Center offers mole exams Thursday and Friday mornings, and also has a Dermatology Department where you can be examined without a referral (again, your insurance company may require a referral for reimbursement). These are not walk-in clinics; you must call in advance, but if you let them know you have a lesion that is changing or looks like a melanoma they will do their best to schedule you quickly. All patients are accepted regardless of financial circumstances, and although services are not free, suitable payment terms can usually be arranged if your financial resources are limited.
  • Call the American Academy of Dermatology (888-462-3376) for information about other dermatologists in your area, or find a dermatologist online.

Problems Getting a Referral from Your Primary Care Physician

Most primary care physicians are reasonable about granting referrals, but some are overzealous in bowing to cost-containment pressures from HMOs. If so, consider changing physicians. Meanwhile, don’t let anyone stand in the way of being seen by a dermatologist. Primary care physicians routinely misdiagnose early melanomas. We have received numerous letters from family members of patients who died because they took no further action after their primary care physicians told them a changing mole was benign. It isn’t worth the risk, even if you have to pay out of pocket for the dermatologist appointment. The cost is small if it saves your life… or even if it just lets you sleep better at night.

Introducing online dermatology

Now you can get a dermatologist’s assessment in 24 hours or less — from the comfort of your home!

Dermatologists can assess and treat over 3,000 conditions — everything from alopecia and nail infections to acne, psoriasis and skin cancer. To get an in-person appointment, however, you first have to visit your family doctor for a referral. From there, it might be weeks (or months) before they call back with a date — Canadians wait an average of 90 days to see a dermatologist. That’s a lot of time to have an issue both physically uncomfortable and socially embarrassing.

Skin issues can even cause mental health challenges, as some of us experience social anxiety and depression as a result of our condition.

Advancements in telemedicine are offering new options, however. Most dermatology assessments are done with the naked eye without ever needing to touch the patient. Because of this, dermatology might just be the perfect medical specialty to go virtual. All you need is the camera on your phone and a description of your symptoms.

What is tele-dermatology?

Online dermatology (or tele-dermatology) is exactly what we described above. A dermatologist looking at pictures and the history of a patient’s condition in a file sent by phone or computer. This allows them to diagnose and formulate a treatment plan, all without having to see the patient in person. Studies show that whether you see a dermatologist in person or virtually, you receive the same level of care and experience the same rate of symptom remission. As long as the photos are good quality, outcomes are the same for patients using tele-dermatology versus in-person consultations.

What can online dermatology help with?

As we mentioned, there’s a litany of skin, hair and nail concerns that dermatologists treat. These include rosacea, acne, alopecia, rosacea, psoriasis, rashes, eczema, nail infections, dermatitis, pigment disorders and shingles to name a few. Online dermatology is also convenient for managing chronic skin issues as patients often have multiple follow-up appointments to track any changes.

How do I use Maple if I need a dermatologist?

You don’t need a referral for our service as we work directly with Canadian dermatologists through our platform. To request a consultation, log in to your Maple account, click “see doctor” and select “dermatology”. Then, fill in a detailed description of your concern and attach any images you feel are necessary for review.

Once the dermatologist analyzes your file, you’ll receive a full report including any advice, treatment plans and diagnoses that the dermatologist believes are necessary — in 24 hours or less!

Where is online dermatology available?

Our online dermatology service is currently available in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Nunavut and Newfoundland and Labrador. We hope to expand the service to additional provinces in the coming months.

Are prescriptions included?

Yes! Our dermatology service allows for a wide variety of prescriptions at the doctor’s discretion with the exception of controlled medications such as narcotics. Once you accept a prescription, you’ll have the option to pick it up from any pharmacy or we’ll deliver it right to your door at no additional cost.

How much does it cost?

Online dermatology costs $180 as it’s not covered under provincial health plans. For those with health insurance, we always recommend checking with your provider to see if our services can be covered.

Whether you’re worried a weird mole is something more ominous, or you’re having a psoriasis flare up, seeing a dermatologist should be your first stop. Virtual dermatology can make it happen a whole lot faster.

PMC

Perceptions and reality

Some dermatologists would say that as a group, we are sometimes pigeonholed and/or isolated as physicians. In some cases, we may have been underestimated, undervalued, underrecognized, or even invisible as key players on the total patient care team. For example, unpublished data collected by the staff of the Vitiligo and Pigmentation Institute of Southern California show that among the five leading women’s health journals that serve the greater medical profession, there is not a single dermatologist on any of the editorial boards to represent the specialty of dermatology.

To fill this glaring gap, we recently reached out to these women’s health journal editors and invited them to a collaboration and involvement with our WDS-TIPP initiative. Our goal is to secure representation on one or more editorial boards of medical journals focused on women’s health issues. Similarly, we invited key journal board members and other prominent nondermatologists to serve as advisory board members of the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology (IJWD). Recent advisory board additions include Janine Austin Clayton, MD, National Institute of Health Associate Director for Research on Women’s Health; Paula J. Adams Hillard, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford University School of Medicine and Associate Chair for Medical Student Education; JudyAnn Bigby, MD, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Director of the Harvard Medical School Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; Carolyn Mazure, PhD, Norma Weinberg Spungen and Joan Lebson Bildner Professor in Women’s Health Research and Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Yale School of Medicine; and Cheryl L. Hurd, MD, Program Director, Psychiatry Residency, John Peter Smith Health Network, Acclaim Physician Group, Clerkship Director and Assistant Professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, School of Health Professions, Physician Assistant Studies.

Broadly speaking, professionals, patients, and lay people alike may hold narrow beliefs about what we actually do as dermatologists. Common misperceptions may be attributed largely to the explosive media attention focused on genuinely exciting advances in the esthetics field. As phenomenal as these innovations are, such progress on the cosmetic dermatology front may have contributed to an eclipsed or distorted view of the whole dermatologist and the full measure of our training, expertise, and capabilities. Although we are certainly not seeking accolades for being unsung heroes in medicine, we do advocate stepping up our collective efforts to deepen understanding and encourage broadened outlooks, interdisciplinary thinking, and collaborative action. Widening the lens to take in the entire picture would ultimately benefit our patients, our specialty, and the greater house of medicine.

While opinions about the dermatologist’s standing in the general medical community may vary based upon subjective experiences, published research suggests a lack of full understanding about what dermatologists actually do in the public mindset. Brezinski et al. (2014) conducted a telephone survey of 800 adults drawn randomly from 10 U.S. area codes. Forty-six percent of survey participants perceived that dermatologists spend a majority of their time managing skin cancer. Twenty-seven percent perceived that dermatologists spend a majority of their time performing cosmetic procedures. Compared with dermatologists, primary care physicians were perceived to have a more critical profession by 63% of participants. Interestingly, when analyzing the types of serious medical conditions that WDS dermatologists identify and treat, as reported in the 2018 WDS survey data, this statistic is particularly relevant to ponder.

For another more informal glimpse into what laypeople think about dermatologists, the WDS has had opportunities to randomly capture public opinion through its community outreach program “Play Safe in the Sun,” which has provided free skin cancer screenings and sun safety education at numerous public events around the United States since 2004. As previously reported by WDS volunteer dermatologists and support teams over the years, individuals who visited WDS booths for free skin checks periodically expressed surprise to learn that dermatologists are actually real doctors.

Moreover, a perusal of social media discourse and popular women’s magazines suggests that the whole picture of what we do and why as dermatologists is simply not conveyed fully and consistently. However, recent informative articles in popular mainstream and medical media can help gradually change perceptions (McIntosh, 2018).

Furthermore, an important awareness campaign introduced in 2017 by the American Academy of Dermatology, known as SkinSerious, highlights the critical role that dermatologists play in collaboration with other health care providers and addresses the impact of skin disease on patients and U.S. society in general. The SkinSerious campaign is supported by data from the Burden of Skin Disease in the United States report (Lim et al., 2017), which quantifies the economic burden of 24 skin disease categories on patients and the health care system in the United States based on an analysis of insurance claims in 2013. This report showed that 85 million Americans were seen by a physician for at least one skin disease in 2013, with estimated direct health care costs of $75 billion and indirect lost opportunity costs of $11 billion. Mortality was noted in half of the 24 skin disease categories.

We align fully with the American Academy of Dermatology’s SkinSerious campaign and to this broad effort; we contribute our special emphasis on interrelated issues that uniquely pertain to total women’s health and well-being. Let us build on this momentum together and move toward creating positive paradigm shifts and eradicating this mentality in concert with our colleagues in dermatology and other medical specialties.

You probably wouldn’t get a Brazilian bikini wax right without popping a couple of Advil beforehand, right? You shouldn’t go to your dermatologist appointment without being prepared, either. There are a few things dermatologists wish more patients would stop doing before and during their appointment. I share five of the most important things you shouldn’t do when meeting with your derm.

Don’t wear nail polish. Like medically trained palm readers, dermatologists rely on the nails and cuticles for subtle but critical clues about the cause of a skin rash, patchy hair loss, painful mouth sores, and much more. For instance, tiny indented nail pits can be seen with alopecia areata, a form of hair loss caused by the immune system; spoon-shaped nails may indicate an iron deficiency; and cuticles with irregular blood vessels can indicate an autoimmune disease.

Don’t skip your regular skin-care products. None of us would show up at the dentist’s office without brushing or flossing, yet every day patients tell me, “I didn’t put any skin products on because I want you to see my face in its true form.” It’s fine to skip your makeup, but if you need topical medication for eczema or psoriasis or acne, use it! Your dermatologist can still assess your skin—and can better understand how it’s responding to your current treatment. (Important exception: If you have a rash that’s new, a topical steroid, such as a hydrocortisone, could obscure the diagnosis or make a skin biopsy less revealing.)

Don’t leave medications at home. When asked what they’re applying, my patients often refer to a cream as “the blue one,” which could be any one of a dozen therapies. Dermatologists understand; many meds sound similar, and they often have ridiculous four-syllable names. Even subtle differences—such as the percentage strength or whether it’s a cream, a gel, or an ointment—can make a profound difference, and we need to know exactly what you’re using. If you don’t feel like lugging them along with you, snap a picture; that works, too.

Don’t leave your clothes on—wear the gown. Declining the exam-room gown and staying dressed inevitably leads to one of two things: a subpar skin exam (I often find myself craning and angling through clothes to get a view of an armpit, hip, or shin), or an awkward moment as you wriggle out of your skinny pants while your doctor looks away. I ask patients to remove everything but their underwear and put on the gown with the opening in the back.

Don’t apologize if you haven’t shaved. Almost every day, a woman tells me she is sorry for her stubble or laments that she is overdue for a wax. Your dermatologist is not your significant other—she couldn’t care less about a little regrowth, and she expects healthy skin to grow hair.

Laurel Naversen Geraghty is a writer and dermatologist in her final year of residency at Stanford University.

Our favorite skin-care products:

Dermatologists must have a working knowledge in basic sciences including microbiology, pathology, biochemistry, physics, physiology, and endocrinology. They must be familiar with all the other medical specialties because of their consultant work and because many skin diseases are associated with internal conditions.
Dermatologists perform skin surgery in many situations:

  • To prevent or provide early control of disease, e.g. remove skin cancer.
  • To improve the skin’s appearance by removing growths, discolourations, or damage caused by ageing, sunlight or disease.
  • To establish a definite diagnosis (biopsy).

Dermatologists perform many specialized diagnostic procedures including:

  • microscopic examination of skin biopsy specimens
  • cytological smears
  • patch tests
  • photo tests
  • potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparations
  • fungus cultures
  • and other microbiologic examination of skin scrapings and secretions.

Treatment methods used by dermatologists include:

  • externally applied, injected, and internal medications
  • selected x-ray and ultraviolet light therapy
  • a range of dermatologic surgical procedures.
  • laser and light therapies

Should You See a Dermatologist?

A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in the health of your skin, hair, and nails, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). While there are a number of reasons you may want to see a dermatologist, the reality is, not every skin problem can be solved, advises Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, a dermatologist at the University of Miami.

“Available treatments for conditions like stretch marks, large pores, and cellulite can make them slightly better, but do not eliminate them completely,” says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd. So it’s important to have realistic expectations.

6 Reasons to Schedule a Dermatologist Visit

A dermatologist plays an important role in educating, screening, and treating various skin issues, including:

1. Acne. If you have acne that is not responding to an over-the-counter skin treatment, you may want to schedule a visit with a dermatologist, advises Woolery-Lloyd. A dermatologist can determine which kind of prescription treatment would be most effective for your acne and lifestyle, according to the AAD.

2. Skin cancer. A dermatologist can screen you for skin cancer. Talk to your family doctor or dermatologist about how often you need to be checked for changes to your skin. An annual body check is especially important if you are in a high-risk group — if you are fair-haired or light-eyed, or you have a history of blistering sunburns, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“As dermatologists, we know that the early detection of skin cancer by routine skin examinations is crucial for successful treatment,” says Robert S. Kirsner, MD, PhD, chair of the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

In addition to regular screenings, you should also see a dermatologist if you notice a change in the shape, size, or coloring of any of your moles. A dermatologist can remove some or all of the suspicious tissue and examine it under a microscope to check for cancerous cells. Dermatologists also see people who are being treated for other cancers and experiencing skin side effects due to their medication.

3. Eczema. This chronic skin condition is characterized by irritation, itchiness, and flaky patches of skin, according to the AAD. A dermatologist can help find ways to manage your eczema and prescribe any necessary treatment.

4. Skin damage. If you are concerned about minimizing skin damage or caring for aging skin, a dermatologist can suggest products or lifestyle changes that reduce your exposure to damaging elements.

5. Specialized care of skin, hair, and nails. You can talk to a dermatologist regarding any concerns you have about almost any condition that affects your appearance, according to the AAD. For example, skin conditions ranging from discolorations, to warts, to stretch marks, to psoriasis can all be treated by a dermatologist.

6. Scar treatment. Dermatologists can offer skin treatments to improve the look of almost any scar, including acne scars and keloid (raised) scars, according to the AAD. A dermatologist may refer you to a plastic surgeon for enhanced treatment of more serious scars, such as those due to burns.

Preparing for Your Dermatologist Visit

Before seeing a dermatologist, it helps to prepare for your visit by:

  • Checking with your health insurance plan to find out what services are covered and whether you need a referral from your primary care provider before making an appointment.
  • Having all necessary identification and medical cards ready to bring with you.
  • Writing down a list of the medications and supplements you’re currently taking.
  • Bringing a list of questions and concerns to discuss.
  • Skipping heavy cosmetics if you want the dermatologist to examine the skin on your face.

It’s also important to remember that while some procedures, such as a full-body skin exam, can be performed at your initial appointment; others may require a follow-up appointment.

View Infographic

As your body’s first line of defense, your skin takes a lot of hits. Not only is it the largest organ in your body, but your skin also protects you from germs; repels water; and covers your blood vessels, nerves, and organs. If you aren’t feeling good about the skin you’re in or are worried about something on your skin, you should consider seeing a dermatologist.

1. A mole or patch of skin that’s changed—If a mole or patch of your skin has changed in color, size, shape, or symptom you better see a dermatologist. Such changes like those are often signs of skin cancer, and when it comes to cancer you want treatment sooner rather than later. Your dermatologist can also help you learn how to do regular skin checkups or screenings.

2. Stubborn acne—You’ve tried over-the-counter products, fad diets, and cleanses, but your acne is still front and center. There is no shame is seeing a dermatologist to help you deal with this skin condition. Get some recommendations on how to put your best face forward.

3. Itchy hives or rashes that won’t go away—Are you having an allergic reaction? Do you have an infection in your skin? See a dermatologist and get some answers. They may prescribe medications or recommend another form of treatment to smooth things over.

4. Scars from acne, blemishes, or cuts and scrapes—If your scar is looking less than desirable, a dermatologist could help you. Medical techniques like laser treatment therapy, microdermabrasion, and others can reduce scarring. With the treatment options available today, there is no need to feel self-conscious.

5. Persistent skin irritation—You have itchy, red, flaky skin and over-the-counter creams and lotions just aren’t working. You may think that the cause of your dry skin is the weather, sensitivity to skincare products, or even genetics. But in reality, you could have a chronic skin condition.

6. Nail disorders, ingrown nails, fungus, or others—Whether you are getting treatment for an ingrown nail, a fungal infection, wart, or something else, having a dermatologist look over your nails is a good thing. Nails can show signs of other body disorders like liver disease, heart conditions, anemia, or diabetes.

7. Hair loss—Noticed more hair than usual on your pillow in the morning? You may have a scalp disorder or want to start some preventive therapies before your hair loss makes a bigger impact on your life. Your dermatologist can recommend laser therapies or other treatments to keep you looking your best.

Feel Good About the Skin You’re In

Whether you are struggling with stubborn acne, have some itchy patches, or want treatment for another skin condition, think about seeing a dermatologist. They can help you decide the best steps for you to feel good about the skin you’re in.

When it comes to skin-care advice—which, as a beauty editor, I tend to dish out a lot—“go to the dermatologist” is the tip you’ll hear most often. And while dermatologists can undoubtedly help with pretty much any and every skin, hair, and nail concern you could ever possibly have, it may not always be necessary to book an appointment with a doctor at the first sign of a blemish.

Though everyone (I repeat, everyone) should be seeing a derm at least once a year for a skin check, it’s not exactly realistic to expect everyone to seek medical help for every issue that pops up with their skin. While teledermatology has made derm visits slightly more accessible, it’s still a luxury in many ways, given the cost that’s often associated with the appointments and the fact that many places in the U.S. are still “derm deserts,” which makes finding a doctor in the first place incredibly difficult.

While we’re certainly not advising that anyone doesn’t go to a doctor for any reason (if that’s something that’s accessible to you, go right ahead!), we chatted with board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD to find out the skin scenarios that always require a trip to their offices. See below for the four things that are worth making an appointment for:

1. If your skin is inflamed in any way: If you have any kind of inflammation that isn’t going away after a day or two, go see a derm—this could mean hives, a rash, or things like rosacea or eczema. Dr. Gohara notes that “sensitive skin” is usually a euphemism for some type of inflammation, so if that’s something you’re dealing with, it’s worth making an appointment with a doctor who can help get you on the right regimen for combatting it.

2. If you’re losing your hair: Instead of relying on Instagram products to help with hair loss issues, your best bet is to talk to a doctor. There are a lot of different reasons why your hair could be falling out (Dr. Gohara jokes that she could write a book on the subject), and a derm can help you figure out what’s going on as well as come up with a treatment plan.

3. If you’ve got deep acne that’s threatening to scar: No one should be running to the derm’s office at the first sign of a pimple (… otherwise I’d personally be there every 28 days when PMS set in), but if you’re fighting off long-term cystic acne, that’s another story. “If they’re persistent and they’re leaving marks as they fade, you should see a dermatologist,” says Dr. Gohara. Derms can prescribe retinoids that are stronger than what you’re able to get over the counter, which can help ease the issues.

4. If you need a new skin-care routine: If you’re dealing with skin issues like excessive oiliness or dryness, or just aren’t happy with the state of your skin and don’t know what to do, hit up a derm for help developing a regimen. They can point you in the direction of finding the ingredients you need to treat your particular concern, and even send you to the drugstore with a shopping list to get you on the right track.

Even if you aren’t making it into the derm’s office, you can still steal their product recs. Here are the drugstore skin-care picks they recommend, plus the ones Dr. Gohara uses on her own skin every single day.

How to select a dermatologist

  • Make your appointment early. The earlier you can book your appointment, the better. If you are scheduling a routine appointment, call several weeks or even months ahead of when you wish to be seen.

  • Explain your concerns. If you are worried about a particular condition or have pain, briefly explain this to the receptionist. For example, if you have a mole that is itching, bleeding, or changing (signs of possible skin cancer), be sure to mention that. Dermatologists will try to work in patients with urgent issues as soon as possible. You may be able to speak directly with the dermatologist or his or her nurse to explain your worries. Dermatologists work tirelessly to keep their patients healthy and happy. They will know whether your condition needs urgent care.

    Explain your concerns

    If you are worried about a particular condition or have pain, briefly explain it to the receptionist.

  • Ask about cancellations. Many dermatologists keep a wait list in case another patient cancels an appointment. Someone else’s scheduling conflict could be your lucky day. If there is no wait list, check with the office frequently to see if an earlier appointment has become available.

Preparing for your visit

You can get the most out of your dermatology visit by doing some preparation. Consider these recommendations:

  • Write down your questions before the visit. When you are in the office, it can be difficult to remember all your questions. Writing questions down ahead of time can ensure that you remember them all.

  • Be prepared to answer questions from your dermatologist. For example, your dermatologist’s staff will ask what medications you are taking. Before your appointment, either write the names of the medications and dosages on a sheet of paper or gather the medications in one place. That way, on the day of your appointment, you can bring the paper or medications with you to your appointment. Be sure to include over-the-counter medicines for acne or other conditions. Also include supplements and vitamins. This information is important, because it is possible that something you are taking may contribute to a concern about your skin, hair, or nails. Also, some medicines may interact with others, leading to unwanted or even dangerous complications.
    Your dermatologist will also ask you detailed questions about your medical history and concerns. For example, if you are seeking care for acne, your dermatologist will likely ask you how long you have had acne. They will ask what treatments you have tried.

  • Know your family medical history. It is especially important to describe any history of skin cancer or other serious disease. You may discover that you need to talk to family members for details. Many skin conditions have a genetic component. That is, having a family member who has had a particular condition can mean that you are at higher risk for developing the same condition.

  • Bring a copy of lab results. If another doctor has already performed lab work or taken a tissue sample, bring a copy of the results. This can help your dermatologist to diagnose conditions, and it can prevent unnecessary testing.

  • Do not wear makeup. Also, do not apply heavy amounts of moisturizer or other skin treatments. Your dermatologist needs to be able to examine your skin clearly. Also, remove polish on your nails. If circumstances require that you wear makeup, bring whatever you need to remove it at the dermatology office.

    Do not wear makeup

    Your dermatologist needs to be able to examine your skin clearly. Also, remove polish on your nails.

  • Bring a notebook and pen. Your dermatologist may offer explanations that seem complex at first, or they may use unfamiliar terms. You should ask your dermatologist to explain in simple, plain language. But it can be useful to write down the medical names for any conditions your doctor may mention. You can then learn more about these conditions later.

I hired an online dermatologist. Here’s what happened

Recently I’ve had some less-than-stellar experiences with doctors. When I went to a podiatrist for help with a foot issue, he seemed stumped and offered a smattering of wild-guess suggestions. (None of them worked.)

When I went to a vision clinic for an eye exam and updated prescription, I waited 45 minutes to actually get into the exam room and another 25 minutes before I threw my hands up and left. (Note to doctors everywhere: Work on your customer service. If there’s a delay, acknowledge it and apologize for it. In 47 years I’ve never experienced that simple courtesy.)

So when I realized I needed to see a dermatologist, I really didn’t want to see a dermatologist. I wanted to explain my symptoms and see if maybe there was an ointment that could fix me up. Like, if I passed a dermatologist in the street, it would probably take 60 seconds.

Dermatology apps rely on your phone to snap photos of the problem area(s).

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

But that’s not how it works. The typical process for such a thing:

  • Look up dermatologists in my healthcare provider’s directory and hope to find one reasonably close to where I live.
  • Call to schedule an appointment.
  • Wait probably 2-3 weeks to get that appointment.
  • Drive to the dermatologist’s office.
  • Fill out countless forms while waiting goodness-knows-how-long to get seen.
  • Spend 5 minutes with a doctor who says something like, “Yeah, that’s Eczema, here’s a prescription.”
  • Drive to drugstore, get prescription filled.
  • Get ridiculous bill from healthcare provider, which maybe covers part of it, but definitely not the co-pay.

Sounds great, right? So much time and energy down the drain. And yet my problem — red, itchy, flaky skin in a few areas of my face — was getting worse.

Apps to the rescue!

I’d heard of online consultations with doctors, but I always thought those were general practitioners focused on things like coughs and allergies.

As it turns out, there are numerous apps that can pair you with a dermatologist for a virtual consultation — usually powered by the camera in your phone. I looked at four such apps and tried one. Here’s the rundown, with my initial impressions of each and the reason I chose the one I chose.

DermatologistOnCall (iOS): Promising to diagnose “more than 3,000 skin, hair and nail conditions,” DermatologistOnCall charges $59 per online visit — but I was quickly scared off by the push to purchase a multi-visit package (starting at $165 for three).

First Derm (Android|iOS): To use First Derm, you snap two pictures of your skin, then get an evaluation and recommendation from one of about a dozen dermatologists. However, the only issues covered are rashes and moles. You can get a response within 48 hours for $24.99; within 24 hours for $39.99; or within 8 hours for $99.99.

SkyMD (Android|iOS): Before letting you do anything else (or revealing its pricing), SkyMD requires you to create an account. Nope, sorry, not until I know what I’m getting (and paying). Even the SkyMD FAQ page says only that it’s “usually comparable to a typical office visit copay.”

Spruce (Android|iOS): With some of the best ratings on both the App Store and Google Play and a reasonable-seeming visit fee of $40, Spruce seemed like a good pick. However, it’s currently available in only about 15 states. Luckily, mine was among them, but the app starts by asking you to identify your issue: acne, Rosacea, etc. I didn’t know exactly what my issue was — that’s what I needed help with! Unfortunately, there was no “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” option.

First, Derm no harm

I was really tempted to go with Spruce, but the reality is I’m cheap. I felt like if I was going to have another unsatisfying (and unhelpful) medical experience, I was going to pay as little as possible. (Yeah, my bad attitude wasn’t helping anything. Maybe next I’ll look for online therapists.)

So I chose First Derm. I figured the redness and itchiness qualified as “rash,” so I tapped through and began the evaluation process. It was simple: snap two photos of the area (in this case my face), then describe the symptoms.

As for the pricing tiers, I had no problem waiting 48 hours for my diagnosis. So I used PayPal (there’s no in-app purchase option for payment), checked out and that was it. I think the entire “visit” took about 5 minutes.

“Cleanup on aisle 12!”

Then I waited. I’d expected some kind of confirmation and/or status email, but I never received one. And as I got toward the end of the 48-hour window, I started to get a little aggravated.

Then I realized I hadn’t actually checked the app since submitting my case. When I opened it again, there was still no indication anything had been done. But when I tapped the Menu button and selected View Case, I discovered that an answer had been received — less than 90 minutes after the submission.

So, my bad for not checking back sooner, and First Derm’s bad for not notifying me of a response. (In its defense, notifications for the app were “off” in the settings, so it seems possible I’d refused the request to enable them. That’s my default choice.)

One annoying thing about First Derm: There’s no way to save, share or export your evaluation. (Best you can do is snap a screenshot.)

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

The “diagnosis” (which was provided “as general information only” and “not a diagnosis or treatment plan”) suggested Seborrheic Eczema and proceeded to list the various symptoms — all of which matched mine to a tee. The recommendation: “a mild steroid cream such as hydrocortisone 1% with antifungal effect (e.g. miconazole).”

Although the response didn’t expressly indicate this was available OTC, the key clue was in the conclusion: “See a dermatologist in person for prescription medication if the condition doesn’t improve.”

So I zipped up to my local drugstore and headed to the ointment aisle. Turns out there are zillions of skin creams, many of them with hydrocortisone. But I looked and looked and couldn’t find a single one with “antifungal effect” or “miconazole.”

Luckily, an OTC remedy was all I needed.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

I did, however, find a product specifically designed to treat eczema — which, according to my virtual doc, is what I have! So although I was aggravated I couldn’t find exactly what had been recommended, I did find something.

Long story shortened: Bought the tube, used it for a couple days…problem solved. Literally, it was better the next morning, and hasn’t recurred except for a short period when I forgot to apply the cream.

Could I have received the same advice from, say, my friendly neighborhood pharmacist? Almost certainly. Am I glad I didn’t go through all the hassles of seeing a real-world doc? No — I’m overjoyed. To me, this was $25 extremely well spent, because I saved both time and aggravation (even if there was still a bit of the latter).

Your mileage will almost certainly vary, depending on your skin issue and the app you choose. In hindsight, I think I would have gone with Spruce, because it promises a proper diagnosis and treatment plan (with a prescription, if necessary), not just “general information.”

That said, my outcome with First Derm was ultimately very positive, so you can bet that the next time I have a skin issue, one of these apps will be my first stop.

Your move, eye doctors.

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