Data reveals how other physicians view dermatologists

Academy’s Specialty Positioning Campaign aims to change perception of specialty

Karen_edison.jpgBy Karen Edison, MD
Chair, AAD Specialty Positioning Work Group

In the July 29, 2016 edition of Member to Member, Academy President Abel Torres outlined the significant opportunity that exists for launching a new Specialty Positioning campaign.  As chair of the Specialty Positioning Work Group, (SPWG), I want to highlight the research around this initiative.  You may be surprised by some of the information we uncovered and will come to understand why we are targeting this outreach to physician leaders, healthcare policymakers, and other influencers.

Over the past several months, the Specialty Positioning Work Group reviewed 2011 perception research, published research and news articles.  In addition, to capture the most recent perceptions about our field, we conducted six focus groups, comprised of 19 non-dermatologist physicians, 16 Academy members and 14 Academy Board members – 49 interviews in all.  

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The August 2016 issued of Dermatology World features an inforgrapic that shows a breakdown of how other physicians rank the importance of dermatologic care for their patients, and how available they feel that care is. Click here to view the infographic.

The results were illuminating.

First, in terms of overall perceptions, dermatologists thought they would be described by their peers as “overpaid,” “lazy,” and as having a “good lifestyle.” This is in sharp contrast to how non-dermatologist physicians actually viewed our specialty.  Instead, we heard descriptions such as “smart,” “thorough,” and “patient-friendly.”  Physician peers in other disciplines think highly of dermatologists – they like us!

Research also showed that dermatologists are known and admired for their unique expertise in skin cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment.  In fact, when other physicians were asked about dermatology’s greatest contribution, 84 percent of other physicians specified “skin cancer.”

We heard descriptions such as “smart,” “thorough,” and “patient-friendly.” Physician peers in other disciplines think highly of dermatologists – they like us!

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The SPWG also explored challenges of dermatology.  When asked if it was important to have a dermatologist available for the care of their patients, the majority of our physician peers – 84 percent -- responded yes.  Again, high regard for the field.  However, when those same peers were asked if they have trouble referring patients to a dermatologist, nearly one-third, or 32 percent, said it was difficult to get their patients in for an appointment or to be seen by a dermatologist in a timely manner.

In the process of pulling all of this data and information together, it became evidently clear a Specialty Positioning Campaign needs to deliver a strong, ubiquitous messaging platform -- with core messages that dermatology treats serious skin disease, that we are eager to be an integral part of a patient-centered health care team, and we as a specialty are working to create greater access to dermatologic care.  

It’s important to note, a Specialty Positioning Campaign cannot change perceptions grounded in fact or firsthand experience, or instantly solve challenges.  What we can change is the narrative that dermatologists are highly-trained physicians who provide life-saving, life changing, and cost-effective care -- not only for skin cancer, but also for more than 3,000 skin conditions.  It can create positive perceptions that our doctors are eager to be integral partners in a high-value, patient-centered health care team.  Last, but certainly not least, this campaign can exhibit how dermatologists are taking a leadership role in providing increased access through positive stories – your stories of your practice and the patients who benefited from your care.

If you have not already, we strongly encourage you to submit your stories today - and you can now provide them online!  Click here for an online form and more detail about the types of stories we are seeking for the campaign.

The Specialty Positioning Campaign will be clear in its messaging, robust in its tactics, and in the end, help to change the narrative about our specialty.  This initiative is not about what we, as the workgroup or the Academy, want to say.  It’s about what our key audiences need to hear from us in order to change their perceptions about dermatology.

Exciting times lie ahead for our field.  We are thrilled about launching the Specialty Positioning Campaign, and with your assistance, look forward to amplifying the conversation about the significant value that dermatology holds in a challenging and changing healthcare arena.

Karen E. Edison, MD, is chair of the Department of Dermatology at University of Missouri School of Medicine; and chair of the Academy’s Specialty Positioning Work Group.

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