Know Before You Go: The Dermatologist

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Read these few simple steps to take in preparation for an appointment with the dermatologist to maximize your visit.

  1. Prioritize! Many people have multiple skin problems at any one time. You want to prioritize the top one or two issues to ensure that the most significant ones are addressed. Otherwise you may use your entire time with the dermatologist scrolling through a list of less pressing problems that leaves little time to thoroughly investigate your most important skin conditions.
  2. When having a full skin exam, the dermatologist wants to know if any of your moles have been changing in any way; size, shape or color. Report any new growths, no matter how small. Definitely report if you’ve ever had moles removed in the past and if they were “atypical” looking and required additional surgery for removal. Also, tanning-bed use, extensive sun exposure (for example, a job as a lifeguard) or a family history of melanoma (the most deadly type of skin cancer) are important parts of your background that the dermatologist needs to know.
  3. If the appointment is for a rash, take notes on when it first started, if you had fever or illness at the same time, if it is itchy, any creams used on it (even over-the-counter ones) and the results of those creams, and if it has happened before. The dermatologist may ask you about recent medications in the past 2 to 3 weeks, outdoor or chemical exposure, travel history and a family history of similar problems.

When the visit is for acne, give the dermatologist a clear, concise history of what has been tried in the past (include over-the-counter products), if those products helped (even a little) and any associated irritation. Although acne can be very frustrating, don’t just exclaim “I’ve been on everything and nothing works,” which gives the dermatologist little information because there are many different types of acne medications on the market. For women, the dermatologist may ask about the regularity of your periods since hormone fluctuations are a major cause of acne.

A successful trip to the dermatologist is based on a partnership between the patient and the doctor. Prepare before your visit by thinking about (and writing down if needed) your most important skin concerns and everything associated with them (e.g., duration of problem, symptoms, past treatments). By doing so, you’ll be able to give the dermatologist a clear, efficient “history” of the skin condition, which will go a long way help the dermatologist treat your skin in the most effective manner.