Skin Conditions, Treatments, And How To Save
This guide is focused on helping you understand your risk, get better outcomes, and find ways to secure more affordable care.
What Are the Most Common Types of Skin Conditions?
The skin is the largest organ of the body, totaling 22 square feet, give or take, on the average adult body. That leaves a lot of room for ailments that fall under the umbrella of “skin conditions.” Here are the main ones:
- Cellulitis (a broad term for a skin and soft tissue infection)
- Rashes (nonspecific)*
- Rashes (fungal—usually found in skin folds like under the breast, in the groin, and between the toes. These can lead to ulcers and bedsores, especially in the elderly)*
- Suspicious moles
- Acne (which, in severe cases, can require retinol treatment)
- Contact Dermatitis (example: nickel allergy, milk allergy, poison ivy)
*Rashes are classified by appearance, texture, and location on the body. Some terms you may hear used to describe rashes are:
- Maculopapular (red area with small bumps)
- confluent (running together or one rash) or nonconfluent (disjointed)
- petechial (doesn’t blanch under pressure, something physicians look for when diagnosing serious pediatric conditions such as meningococcal disease) or nonpeticial (blanches under pressure)
- vesicular (rash appears in the same place as multiple blisters)
- weeping (wet or moist on the surface)
- crusting (rough on the surface)
- and more.
Where to Start: Finding The Right Provider
Start With A Visit To Your General Practitioner
Have you been contending with a skin condition that you’ve been unable to successfully treat with over the counter products like Neosporin or polysporin, Calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or any of the slew of medicines that dot the aisles of your local drugstore? If so, it’s best to schedule a visit to your general practitioner (GP) and see what the next step is.
On the whole, your GP or primary care physicians (PCP) are gatekeepers to the medical community. They’re the first to diagnose your condition and provide you with a broader perspective based on your personal medical history. The more they know about you, the more effective they’ll be at diagnosing your symptoms and recommending the right next course of action. They are the ones who make your referrals to specialists they know and trust.
If your GP is unable to treat your condition, they may refer you to a dermatologist. Often, referring physicians prioritize continuity of care, time/experience, and word-of-mouth reputation. Ultimately, though—as we’ll see in the next section—you should respect their recommendation while understanding that the choice of a specialist (and a GP, for that matter) is up to you.
Using Doctor Review Sites and Cost Estimator Sites To Find A Dermatologist
There are many things to consider when it comes to finding the right specialist for your treatment. If you’re just starting the process, begin with your GP’s recommendation. From there, if you’re comparing a few different specialists, take the time to use review sites, transparency sites, and insurance cost estimator tools. These resources offer a great way to understand where providers stack up in regards to overall price and how successful they are at helping patients achieve positive outcomes.
The Top Doctor Review Sites For Dermatologists
- Medicare.gov Doctor Compare
- US News & World Report
- The Leap Frog Group (for hospitals)
Cost Estimator Tools For Skin Conditions
Your insurance company might also provide cost information as well as patient satisfaction information. These are the resources you have access to if you’re insured by a major insurance company. Note, you will need to log in to your account to access the tool.
If you aren't insured by a major carrier these tools also provide price transparency information:
When it comes to comparing costs, no one tool is always the best. The cost tools provided by your insurance provider will be the most accurate, but it's important to check all the tools to see how well your insurance is doing in terms of its discount and see the whole playing field.
Selecting The Specialist That's Right For You
A good specialist is a good listener; they should not only be interested in helping your health, but also in helping you navigate the healthcare system in the best way possible.
Beyond that, there are a few specific things you should consider. It’s important to interview a few doctors first before you seal the deal.
Start With This Checklist Of Questions
- Are they easy to access?
- What is the quality of their care?
- What do they charge?
- Are they in your network or out of it?
- Are they board certified?
- Do they have experience managing your condition(s)?
- How long have they been in business?
- Are they taking new patients?
- What is their hospital affiliation?
- Are there any red flags such as malpractice suits or sanctions?
- Are they vested in technology?
- Do they participate in electronic medical records and coordinate electronically with pharmacists, other specialists, hospitals, and you?
- Find a dermatologist with board certification
- Ask about clinical trials and recent research. You want to find a specialist who is knowledgeable in the field and who is well-connected to the medical community.
Always Look For Practices With Support Programs
Many practices now have programs that help you better understand your treatment, help you track your progress and act as an advocate who coaches you on how to achieve the best possible outcome. These programs focus on coaching you and making sure you stick with your treatment plan—which helps you get better, faster. Their job is to be there for you as the patient, which means they can help answer any questions about what you should be doing.
These services are offered at no extra cost to the patient and are usually referred to as a number of different names, that all do the same thing. When you’re researching dermatologist, look for:
- Health navigators
- Care navigators
- Patient navigators
- Care managers
- Chronic disease management programs
The Doctor’s Communication Skills
Make sure your dermatologist is a good communicator who seeks your input, asks probing questions, and answers your call (or calls you back) when you need help or information. Ask yourself this: Does the specialist answer my questions and explain complex medical issues clearly, so I can understand them?
The Practice’s EHR (Electronic Health Record) System
What’s an EHR? EHR stands for electronic health records. Back in 2009, the federal government passed a law called HITECH (the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health), which basically mandated that doctors start to use electronic health record systems.
About 80% of physicians now use a “certified EHR”. EHR’s allow doctors on the same system to easily and instantly share charts, notes and your medical history. Finding a specialist that’s on your hospital and GP’s EHR will make communication between doctors a whole lot easier.
Ask the specialist’s practice which EHR they use and then cross compare that to the doctors you’ve already established a relationship with. Here’s a list of the most popular EHRs:
Is it essential that your doctors are on the same EHR? No. But it will make your quality of life, and the doctor’s ability to communicate easier.
Alliances within the Medical Community
Dermatologists should communicate with other healthcare providers, such as your primary care provider. Ask about their ties to other medical professionals and what hospitals they’re affiliated with. This is important because if your specialist uses the same electronic medical records (EMR) system as your primary care provider, that higher degree of coordination will save time and increase communication—both of which can lead to a better outcome for you!
A good specialist will be on top of all the latest research and developments in the space. They should also be well informed about clinical trials being done on meds, in case you’re eligible to participate in a study.
Whether They’re A Solo Practice or Multi-Physician Practice
A multi-physician practice will have better coverage or physician availability for patients if there is an urgent need. Though, if your condition is well maintained or is not chronic, this may not be as important of a consideration when choosing a doctor.
In addition, many specialists are outpatient providers, which means there are a few things you need to consider before choosing a practice to visit:
- Is it in network?
- Do they offer discounts?
What To Expect From A Visit With A Dermatologist
How to Prepare For An Effective Visit
Visiting a dermatologist with concerns about skin conditions can be embarrassing or scary. Don’t sweat it! To streamline things, be prepared to answer these questions honestly:
- What is your recent travel history?
- Any recent changes in medications? What is your medication history?
- What is your history of sun exposure?
- Have you had a change in routine in any of the regular products you use on your skin?
- Do you have family history of malignant melanoma or other skin condition?
- Have you ever been treated for this condition before?
- How long have you been having the problem? Is it present in any other area?
- Have you had any recent infections?
- Does it itch, burn, or hurt at all? If so, how badly? What are the aggravating factors?
- Can you identify the trigger?
- Have you tried any over the counter medications?
How To Talk To Your Doctor
While most of us are used to relying on our doctor’s to guide the conversation, the only way to make sure you’re getting the best care is to speak up. Most doctors and practices are trained in the SBAR method. Use it to organize your thoughts.
- Situation: take ten seconds to explain your ailment
- Background: provide context with your medical health record
- Assessment: describe the specific problem/situation
- Recommendation: explain what you want to do about it and when
How Skin Conditions are Diagnosed and What to Expect
Every patient is unique, so every office visit will be, too. That said, there are building blocks of treating a skin condition that are standard. It’s important to understand this process and why each step is being taken. Remember that you have the power to gut check a particular test based on your level of symptoms.
- Your doctor will ask about family and health history
- You doctor should start with questions about your symptoms, health habits, and family history.
- Every diagnosis then moves to a physical exam
- Skin conditions are some of the most simple to diagnose in house—sometimes. That’s not always the case. If your provider can’t find the source of the condition, they will refer you to a dermatologist or, in rare cases, an allergist. Still, physical exams for particular conditions follow a formula. For those worried about suspicious moles, for example, doctors will use the “ABCD” technique during their examination. In this technique, A stands for asymmetry, B stands for border (irregular), C stands for color (multiple colors or irritated), and D stands for diameter (if it’s grown).
- Sometimes, your doctor will order tests
- Besides the obvious vitals in the office, the most common additional tests associated with skin conditions—especially suspicious moles—are either shave or punch biopsies. Some GP physicians can perform this in their office, while others will refer you to a dermatologist.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor Ask You Discuss The Diagnosis And Treatment Options
- What is the test for?
- How many times have you done this procedure?
- When will I get the results?
- Why do I need this treatment?
- Are there any alternatives?
- What are the possible complications?
- Which hospital is best for my needs?
- How do you spell the name of that drug?
- Are there any side effects?
- Will this medicine interact with medicines that I’m already taking?
- What is my diagnosis?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the benefits of each option? What are the side effects?
- Will I need a test? What is the test for? What will the results tell me?
- What will the medicine you are prescribing do?
- How do I take it? Are there any side effects?
- Why do I need surgery? Are there other ways to treat my condition? How often do you perform this surgery?
- Do I need to change my daily routine?
How to Save On Diagnostic Testing
If you have health insurance, make sure you are staying in network. If you don’t have insurance, or haven’t met your deductible yet, these other tactics are a great way to lower the cost of your exam:
- Ask for the cash-pay price; you might receive a discount of up to 30% if you can pay upfront
- Ask if the facility offers a payment plan
- See if the facility provides any assistance programs
Common Prescription Treatments for Skin Conditions and How Much They Cost
Your doctor will discuss your modifiable risk factors either before prescribing medication or in tandem with prescribing medication. These recommendations may include trying to lose weight (if fungal infections are occurring in skin folds), keeping the affected area dry, practicing good foot care (especially in diabetics) so as not to get athlete’s foot, avoiding allergens, avoiding prolonged sun exposure, and wearing sun screen—among others.
Prescriptions are commonly used to treat skin conditions. Here are a few basic types and how much they cost:
Common Drug Classes
- Steroids (topical or, in the case of a condition such as chronic eczema, oral)
- Anti-fungal medications
Common Prescription Treatments For Skin Conditions And How Much They Cost
Here's an idea of how much the above drugs cost on average. In no way is this a full list of all the available drugs used to treat skin conditions, but it will give you an idea of what you may encounter price-wise. Always talk to your doctor about the benefits and side effects—including the cost—of medications they prescribe.
Saving On Prescription Drugs
Whether your health insurance covers prescription medication or you have to pay out of pocket, drug cards are one of the most effective way to save on Rx. See our how drug cards on our How to Save page.
Drug cards aren't the only way you can save on prescriptions, though. There are tons of insider tricks you can follow, starting with asking your doctor the right questions. See our guide to the questions you should be asking to save money on your prescriptions.
Living With A Chronic Condition
When it comes to receiving care and being able to afford the cost of care, you have many more options than you think.
We continually update this guide with the latest tools, resources and savings tips. If you have a story to share about your treatment or how you’ve Uncovered better healthcare, join our community and share it!