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  • Ryan Harris, MD

How to Prepare For Your Dermatology Appointment



Post it note on the calendar for a doctor appointment

People schedule appointments to see a dermatologist for a variety of reasons. This blog post is designed to help you make the most of your upcoming appointment. Perhaps this is your first time ever seeing a dermatologist, or maybe it's just your first time seeing a new one. Below I will list some Do's and Don'ts to help make your upcoming visit as productive as possible.

Do's Show Up to Your Appointment

This may seem silly to mention, but I am constantly surprised at how many people make appointments and don't bother to show up. I understand that things come up, but if you can't make your visit, give your doctor the courtesy of letting them know you won't be coming. This helps the office accommodate other patients who need to be seen and are waiting for an appointment. At many offices, if you do not show up to your appointment, you won't be allowed to schedule with them in the future. So don't burn any bridges and make sure you show up or cancel your appointment at least a day in advance.

Bring Your Health Insurance Information

Every doctor's office wants to make sure your visits are as affordable as possible, and the best way to accomplish that is to make sure your insurance covers as much of the visit as possible. Also, patients often rightfully want to know how much certain things may cost. If you don't have your correct insurance information, giving such information will be impossible. So please make sure you can provide your correct health insurance information at your visit to avoid being charged more than you need to.



Person holding their health insurance card

Understand Your Insurance (Or at Least Try To)

Insurance is confusing. Even as a physician, I fear getting bills from the doctor and struggle to make sense of them when I do. If you at least have a basic understanding of insurance, you will have fewer surprises and will make better decisions about your care. If you have a copay, that is usually a great thing and means you will only pay a defined amount for your office visit regardless of the complexity of the visit, as long as no procedures are performed. If you are like me and have a high deductible plan, be prepared for the fact that if you haven't met your deductible, you will likely be responsible for the entire cost of your visit. The cost of your visit is dependent upon the complexity of you visit, so the more problems you bring up to have addressed, the more you may be charged. It is also very important to know that any procedure performed typically does not get covered by your copay and adds a charge that you may be responsible for, especially if you haven't met your deductible. Examples of procedures include skin biopsies, surgical removal of skin growths or cancers, treatment of warts or other growths, injections, and many other things. Basically if it is something the doctor does to you in the office, be aware that you may have an additional charge for a procedure even if you thought you would only be paying a copay. If you are ever unsure about your insurance, or if you want to know what something may cost, don't be afraid to ask. Every office has someone who is an expert in answering these questions (and just a hint, it usually isn't the doctor) and they will be happy to help you out .

Alarm Clock


Come to Your Visit On Time

Do not show up late. If you do, your doctor may not have enough time to adequately address your issues which is frustrating to both you and the doctor. If you show up excessively late, you may even be forced to reschedule. Also realize that if you are a new patient, you should show up at least 10 minutes early to fill out any paperwork necessary prior to your visit.


Know Your Medications

In order to give you the best chance of fixing your skin issues, your dermatologist needs to know what treatments you have already tried. Every day patients tell me some version of the fact they are using "some cream that comes in a tube with a red stripe on it." In case you didn't know, that isn't very helpful. Not knowing what you have used may cause your dermatologist to prescribe the same medication you have already tried. That is both a waste of your time and erodes confidence in your dermatologist since they ended up prescribing something you already know doesn't work.

Bottle of prescription pills

Know Your Medical History Including Relevant Family History

Your dermatologist will make decisions based on your risk factors which includes past history. If you have already had skin cancers or atypical moles, they will recommend more thorough screening for skin cancer and will be more likely to biopsy skin growths as you have already shown you are prone to skin cancer. If you have a 1st degree relative who has had melanoma, you have a higher risk for also developing melanoma. If you aren't sure of your own history or those of your 1st degree relatives, try to figure it out before your visit. This will lead to a better appointment for all involved.


Know Exactly What You Want Addressed at the Visit

If needed, make a list of the specific problems you want to address. If your list is too long, realize you may need additional visits to cover every item on your list. If you are organized and efficient, you have a better chance of having more issues addressed in a single visit. Know exactly where on your body the specific spots are located that you are concerned about. This is especially important if a spot is in your scalp. I can't tell you how many minutes I have wasted trying to find elusive, tiny spots on the scalp of a patient. This is time that could be better spent actually addressing a patient's issues rather than frantically combing through every square inch of their scalp.

Don'ts

Various types of makeup set out on a counter

Don't Apply Makeup or Lotion the Day of Your Visit

If a goal of your visit is to have a skin cancer screening or to have a specific issue on your face addressed, please do not apply makeup if at all possible. I know this can be scary and I even hesitate to suggest it knowing the backlash such a suggestion can cause, but wearing makeup can absolutely hide a skin cancer and cause your dermatologist to miss it. Yes, you can clean off your makeup at the visit, but sometimes that can alter the appearance of the skin just enough to make diagnosis very difficult. While applying a good moisturizer is a great idea most every day, you should avoid applying any the day of your visit. Your dermatologist has the best chance of finding concerning growths or getting the most correct diagnosis of rashes or other skin issues when you skin is left as natural as possible. There is a reason why dermatologists suggest moisturizers so often and that is because they make the skin look better which can hide things that your dermatologist may need to find.

Girl looking in the mirror and picking her acne


Don't Pick, Scratch, Squeeze, or Pop Anything you Want Examined

I can't tell you how many times patients have come in with growths they recently mutilated in the days leading up to their visit. When you make any physical alterations to growths on the skin, you make it infinitely harder for your dermatologist to give reliable and accurate diagnoses. Purposely traumatizing your skin immediately before your visit can cause your dermatologist to either miss a cancer that needs to be treated, or may cause them to recommend a biopsy to rule out a cancer that probably could have been avoided had the spot been left alone. So do yourself and your dermatologist a favor and leave your spots alone!


Don't Start a New Treatment Right Before Your Visit

Many of the things we diagnose require testing to make the most correct diagnosis. This is especially true of things like fungal or bacterial infections. To properly diagnose either of those conditions, your dermatologist may need to perform a culture or other skin test. If you have just started an antifungal or an antibiotic treatment, you may have killed just enough of the organisms to make proper diagnosis difficult to impossible.


If you have a rash, it is best for the dermatologist to see it in its most severe state. If you start treating it right before you come in, it may make it harder to diagnose if your treatment improves the appearance of your rash. If you must start a treatment before your visit, consider taking a picture of your skin and bring the photo to your visit. This can be extremely helpful if your rash or skin issue improves prior to your visit.

Person squeezing medicine out of a tube onto their finger

Don't Be Afraid to Get a Second Opinion

If what you are being told doesn't seem right, don't be afraid to seek another opinion. Doctors use their skill and years of training to do the very best they can to help patients by getting the correct diagnosis and developing the optimal treatment plan. But at the end of the day, doctors are human and either make mistakes or don't always have the ability to give you as precise of a diagnosis as you want. It's nothing personal, it's just one of the limitations of us doctors being human. While it is perfectly reasonable and welcomed to ask clarifying questions and provide additional information you think may be helpful, arguing with your doctor to convince them their assessment is wrong isn't productive. A good doctor isn't offended by a patient wanting to get a second opinion as we realize our limitations and genuinely want what is best for patients.

Person typing on a laptop computer

Don't Forget to Leave Your Doctor a Good Review

Truthfully, one of my least favorite parts of being a doctor is the pressure to maintain a good online presence through reviews and social media. I would much rather spend all my time and attention focused on making patients better, but that is not the world we live in. While I would say that 99% of my encounters with patients are very positive, the 1% of patients who feel their visit didn't go well for whatever reason are the only ones who will take the time to leave online reviews without being asked. Being a doctor is hard and stressful. Do your doctor a huge favor and leave them a good review if you feel they deserve it. Reviews can be left on Google, Facebook, and many other places. Trust me, it will make their day and will make your follow up appointments that much better if the doctor knows you appreciate their efforts.



I hope you found these tips helpful and that your upcoming dermatology visit will adequately address all your needs. By following my tips listed above, you will have a much better chance of putting yourself and your dermatologist in a good position to have a successful visit and excellent long-term relationship.

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