What is a dermatologist?
Dermatology is the branch of medicine that deals with the skin, related diseases and skin care. A dermatologist is a medical doctor who has specialised in the field of dermatology for several years after completing their medical training. In South Africa, strict standards of training are maintained to ensure that all dermatologists within the country provide a similar service.
When should you visit a dermatologist?
Most of us visit our GP’s (general practitioners) for all our health care needs and your GP will usually refer you to a dermatologist when he/she deems fit. However in the event of a chronic skin condition which does not seem to resolve or settle with the regular treatment that you are receiving, you can opt to visit a dermatologist without a referral. A few medical aids in South Africa will require that you first get a referral letter from your GP but in most instances, you can visit a dermatologist without any referral note.
Even if you have not previously consulted with a GP, you can still visit a dermatologist for your skin ailments. However this is only the case in the private health sector. If you are attending a public health facility, you will not be able to access a dermatologist with such ease. Initially your condition will be treated and managed by the medical officers on duty and only after a period of time, depending on certain criteria, you will then be referred to the dermatologist. In public health facilities, this can take many months and depends on the availability of a dermatologist.
What procedures are available through a dermatologist?
The range of dermatological procedures are dependent on your individual case. The dermatologist will decide on the best course of treatment – drugs, creams, procedures and surgery. If you have visited the dermatologist for a cosmetic procedure, then you can choose which would be best suited for your individual needs. Some of the common cosmetic procedures conducted by a dermatologist include Botox injections, chemical skin peels, laser treatments, freeze drying and cutting of warts and moles as well as cosmetic surgery procedures (‘plastic surgery’).
At times these cosmetic procedures are also offered by other medical doctors who may be allowed to legally perform these treatments. However it is advisable that you consult with a dermatologist who will be better equipped to deal with any complications that may arise. Home remedies, over-the-counter (OTC) creams and beauty treatments cannot replace the specialist skill of a dermatologist and may cause complications or skin damage.
How much does a dermatologist consultation cost?
The private rates for consulting with a dermatologist may vary in South Africa but it is usually between R300 to R500 (2010) per consultation. However some dermatologists may charge higher rates for a consultation and this just depends on the location, demand for their services and availability of dermatologists in the area. Paying a higher rate does not necessarily mean that you are accessing better services but dermatologists who have a good reputation are usually in demand and can therefore request higher fees.
This consultation rate may not include any medicines in most cases. The dermatologist will provide you with a prescription and you will have to purchase these medicines and creams from your pharmacy at an additional cost. The rates may also not cover any special skin procedures so it is advisable to clarify this issue with your dermatologist before undergoing any procedure.
Will my medical aid pay for a dermatologist?
Most medical aids in South Africa pay for dermatological services however you may require a referral letter from your doctor. In some instances, your medical aid may refuse to pay for the consultation with a dermatologist if you were not referred by a GP. Even if you have comprehensive medical aid cover, there is no guarantee that all dermatological services and procedures will be covered. Most medical aids do not pay for any procedure or service that is considered to be cosmetic or non-essential.
Another issue that you may face is that the dermatologist you are visiting is not contracted into medical aid schemes. In this instance, you will have to pay the dermatologist directly and then claim back from your medical aid. If the dermatologist does not charge NHRPL rates, then your medical aid will not fully refund you for the cost of the consultation, procedures or medicines. It is important to clarify these issues with the dermatologist at the outset.
The cost of private health care in South Africa has always been a contentious issue but if you have a persistent skin condition, you should consult with a dermatologist. It is important to take note that a ‘skin doctor’ or a ‘skin clinic’ does not necessarily mean that you are consulting with a dermatologist or visiting a dermatology clinic. In South Africa, dermatologists will clearly mark their qualifications and are the only professionals allowed to use the word ‘dermatologist’.