Academy has strong strategy for responding to media coverage about specialty

From the President

Ronald L. Moy

Dr. Moy was Academy president from Feb. 8, 2011 until March 20, 2012.

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You may have noticed two recent articles in USA Today about the risks of cosmetic surgery, especially liposuction, which raised concerns about surgeries performed by health care providers outside of their areas of expertise — and suggested that readers should seek only a board-certified plastic surgeon. Dermatologists were not mentioned as the inventors of tumescent liposuction or as appropriate surgeons for tumescent liposuction. The Academy responded to this coverage with a joint letter to the editor (co-signed by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery) emphasizing dermatologists’ training, education, and expertise in performing cosmetic surgery. The letter was posted on our website and shared on our Facebook page and via Twitter, and we developed resources in our online Media Relations Toolkit to help members respond to inquiries they might receive from the media or their patients.

This response was a recent example of how the Academy addresses coverage of dermatology every day. As you all know, the media and the public are very interested in topics related to dermatology — and that interest keeps growing, with coverage making more than a billion impressions on the public each year, the equivalent of reaching every American five times. The Academy’s Communications Department helps connect reporters with high-quality information about the latest research and treatment developments in the care of the skin, hair, and nails, and with our experts — members like all of you — who can be interviewed to help make sense of those developments for the public.

But despite our best efforts, reporters don’t always reach out to the Academy before they work on a story related to dermatology, or they may simply get things wrong. So, in addition to helping reporters find appropriate sources for their dermatology-related stories, the Academy has a communications plan for addressing negative media coverage. We routinely respond to stories that contain mistakes or misinformation. If an article or news report suggests that unprotected sun exposure is the best source of vitamin D, for example, the Academy responds, noting that there are better ways for people to obtain the vitamin.[pagebreak]

We also respond when a story seems likely to create an unfair negative perception by the public. If a reporter criticizes dermatologists for the time we spend on cosmetic procedures, for example, the Academy responds with data demonstrating the specialty’s commitment to treating medical conditions.

Finally, we respond when a story presents an opposing viewpoint but does not include the perspective of dermatology or the Academy. That was the case with USA Today’s coverage of cosmetic surgery, which ignored the training of dermatologists and the safety record of tumescent liposuction, a technique developed within our specialty that, when performed by a medical doctor with the proper education, training, and expertise, is the safest form of liposuction. It is also sometimes the case when reporters interview advocates of indoor tanning. In both cases, we make sure to respond and remind reporters and readers of our perspective. We will need to do better about proactively educating the public and media about the treatment and diagnostic skills of dermatologists using our website, social media, press relases, You Tube, television, public service announcements, and other forms of commumication.

While this strategy is an important part of the Academy’s communications plan, I should stress to you that the vast majority of coverage our specialty receives is very positive. That is a credit to our members and our staff, and to the volunteers who make up our SKIN Faculty, dermatologists who have chosen to receive media training and make themselves available to participate in media interviews. In 2010, the positive coverage dermatology received as a result of the collective efforts of members and staff earned us media coverage that would have cost $64 million to purchase as advertising — more than the Academy’s entire annual operating budget.

We do need to think about how the AAD can do better with public awareness and public education. Can we anticipate issues and newsworthy stories that the public wants to hear about? Can we better position our specialty and improve our public perception? I will do my best to work with members and staff to improve the public perception of dermatologists.

You can help! Visit our online Media Relations Toolkit at to learn more.