Recent studies have shown that the current dermatologist population is too small to service the demand for skin care. Patients may have to see general physicians instead of dermatologists because of long wait times for appointments and insufficient number of skin care specialists. The shortage is attributed to a number of contributing factors including:

  • Heightened public awareness of the effects of sun and air pollution on the skin has led to an increased demand for skin care products and services. In 2000, the market for dermatology products exceeded $3.5 billion.
  • Managed care systems recognize the cost-effectiveness of using dermatologists to treat skin disease.
  • A recent study determined that approximately 3.3 dermatologists were needed to service every 100,000 people. Based on this estimate, the number of practicing dermatologists needs to be increased from around 8,400 to more than 9,000.
  • The shortage of dermatologists is evident in waiting times for appointments – the average waiting time for a dermatology appointment is more than a month, while general physicians only keep patients waiting for seven days.
  • Dermatologists consider three weeks for new patients and two weeks for established patients reasonable waiting periods.
  • The supply of dermatologists is limited by the capacity of Medicare-funded residency programs providing training.
  • Programs have been prevented from training more residents for a number of reasons:
    • A freeze on Medicare funding of new residency positions.
    • Medicare’s emphasis on training “primary care” physicians.
    • Residency training programs in hospitals see little value in using their limited funds to support the training of residents in a specialty that is nearly exclusively based in an outpatient setting. Most dermatology residents move on to private practice.

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