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We, dermatologists, have a shared identity – as your first step forward in the long, winding road of skin care. This is true especially here in Singapore, where skin care is a necessity thanks to the tropical climate, which often leaves our skin feeling dry.
Singapore Dermatologist Specialist Training
I was pretty excited to have finally graduated from med school – until I realised that to specialise in dermatology here in Singapore, it requires at least 6 years of specialist training post-graduation. That’s 3 years of training in internal medicine plus another 3 years of advanced medical dermatology specialist training. This means that nearly all dermatologists in Singapore have trained at the National Skin Centre (NSC) for at least a few years. Once specialist training for dermatology is completed, they are now recognised as associate consultants in dermatology.
Choosing a Private or Public Dermatologist in Singapore
Pros and Cons
When choosing a good dermatologist or skin specialist in Singapore, you have two options – whether to see a dermatologist in private practice or go and consult with a dermatologist in a public hospital such as the NSC. Each of the two options has its pros and cons, specifically in the aspects of cost, time, and convenience.
If you decide to go the private route, the one advantage is that it much, much easier and quicker to see a dermatologist in a private medical centre. In these dermatology clinics, usually, an appointment can be given in as fast as 1 to 3 days. There are even dermatology doctors who accept walk-in patients as long as they can fit in their schedule. The only downside is that private dermatology doctors usually charge more for their services (as much as 2 to 4 times more) than skin doctors in public hospitals. If money isn’t much of an issue, or if you value and care about your convenience and time more, then finding a private dermatologist in Singapore is your best bet.
Your other option is to look for a good dermatologist in a public hospital, medical centre or dermatology clinic in Singapore, such as the NSC. The total costs for appointment and treatment for skin problems are subsidised, which means that costs are about 40 to 60% cheaper compared to private dermatology or skin clinics. The downside is that wait times are longer. Appointments are usually set a month or more after and they don’t accept walk-in patients. Because of this, one tip I give my patients and friends is to take a picture of the skin condition when it appears. There are times where a patient’s skin will look perfectly normal during the appointment day but then show up again afterwards. It is important to collect as much information as you can for you and your dermatologist’s convenience.
There is the option of setting up an appointment with an NSC medical dermatology doctor (or any other public dermatologist) without the subsidies and it’s pretty much an identical process.
Consultation, Medication and Other Fees
For a first-time consultation with a private dermatologist practice, it costs about $110 to $150, which is affordable. Follow-up consultations cost cheaper at about $100 to $140 per follow-up appointment. Including medication, a visit to a dermatologist in private clinics will cost you about $300 or more in total, which is not the best option if you are price-sensitive.
If you’re consulting with a dermatologist in a public hospital or medical centre such as the NSC, due to subsidies it would cost you about $35 to $60 for a first-time consultation, which is the best price, I would say. Then, follow-up consultations run about $3 to $5 cheaper. Drugs and medication are also subsidised by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and would cost you a fraction of the price compared to buying from a private pharmacy or skin clinic. Total costs of consultation plus medication would be about $100 to $200. As you can see, this proves to be much less expensive than the other option.
Procedure and Treatment Costs
Whether or not you are eligible for subsidies or Medisave claims on your specialist skin procedure or specialist skin surgery depends on the assessment of your skin problem. Unfortunately, if it is deemed a purely cosmetic procedure by the MOH, you will not be given any subsidies. This drives the costs of procedures and treatments up and would almost always comprise the bulk of your total costs. The specialist skin procedure or specialist skin treatment cost difference between a public or private dermatologist is negligible. My best advice is to choose a hospital or dermatology clinic in Singapore that has a good and proven track record with the skin procedure of your choosing. These skin procedures or skin treatments include:
However, if your skin procedure is deemed by the hospital or dermatology clinic to be a necessary one, then subsidies and claims may be given on a case to case basis.
Obtaining Subsidies for Public Dermatologist Singapore
There are two requirements for you to be qualified for medical subsidies in Singapore:
First, you must be a Singaporean citizen or a permanent resident (PR). Secondly, you have to acquire a referral letter from a polyclinic.
If you are:
- a foreigner,
- referred to consult with a specific skin specialist, or
- referred by a private doctor, hospital or clinic
then you do not meet the requirements for medical subsidies.
Polyclinics and polyclinic GPs (general practitioners) in Singapore are equipped to treat and manage common skin, hair disorders such as allergies, acne and eczema. They also usually have the proper medication needed to treat these skin conditions.
For more serious skin conditions (e.g., skin cancers or melanoma) however, polyclinics in Singapore may refer you to consult with an NSC dermatologist. The National Skin Centre are much more experienced in dealing with skin problems and skin conditions (including skin cancer) and can offer treatments and procedures that are unavailable in polyclinics in Singapore.
Types of Dermatologists in Singapore
- Dermatologists that focus on medical dermatology Singapore. These dermatologists are the ones that have a lot of knowledge and experience when it comes to diagnosing, managing and treating skin diseases, skin problems, skin conditions and skin cancer such as:
- Skin Cancers
- Pediatric Dermatology
- Skin allergies
- Autoimmune skin disorders
- Hair loss
- Cosmetic Dermatologists. These doctors specialising in aesthetic dermatology focus on providing cosmetic procedures and treatments for various medical and aesthetic dermatology problems. Usually, the dermatology clinics provide at least one of the following services to their clients:
- Thread Lifts
- Excision (Skin) Surgery
- Laser (Skin) Surgery
- Hair Loss
Usually, there is a lot of overlap between these two categories, with a lot of dermatologists being able to help with skin problems or cosmetic skin matters or even hair loss. More often than not though, skin doctors specialise in one of these to be able to give their patients the best dermatological care and specialist skin treatment for the patient’s specific problem/s.
Dermatologists at the National Skin Centre usually belong to the first category - specialising in medical dermatology, but a lot of them also provide aesthetic dermatology services for their patients facing skin problems. Dermatologists in private practice are more varied with plenty of them offering both dermatology services to their clients.
When should I go to a dermatologist?
A: It’s hard to cover everything, but here are a few pointers. You ought to check in with a dermatologist or skin specialist in Singapore if you have a new rash, you suffer from excessive sweating, your cheeks are always red, or if you notice that one of your moles has changed. Another reason to get on the phone and schedule an appointment is if it has been more than a year since your last consultation or specialist skin treatment.
Q: What shall I expect from my check-up?
A: Every visit will be different and will generally depend on why you are there. You can expect the dermatology doctor to look at all parts, even the private ones if the situation calls for it. Remember that you have skin all over the body... On that note, you will probably be prompted to take your clothes off and put on a gown so it’s easier to get examined from head to toe. The physician will ask about your medical history and encourage you to ask questions. The whole visit will last no more than 10-15-minutes.
Q: How much do I tell my dermatology specialist?
A: First, make sure to answer honestly their questions. If you lie about how much you drink or smoke, or whether you take any supplements and medications, it will impede the dermatology specialist’s judgement of the situation. This will only worsen your case. Second, prepare a list of things you’ve tried to improve your skin, hair or nail conditions if that’s the case you’re visiting. Don’t forget to add the skin products you’re currently using. Also, mention any allergies you know of, skin procedures or skin treatment you’ve had recently, and so on.
Q: What are some tips to remember everything the skin specialist tells me?
It is estimated that patients recall about 49% of the information they obtain from their medical encounters. They forget the other half the minute they walk out of the exam room. If this tells you anything, it’s that you are more than likely to repeat the established pattern - memorise only a small part of the content. How do you fix that?
Just bring in a friend or relative with you so they will remember some of the info for you. Another smart move is to write everything down as the skin specialist or dermatology doctor explains. That’s right, use good old handwriting or, if you are a digital fellow, transfer everything on whatever gadget you have at hand. Your smartphone will make do.
Q: And what if I don’t understand what the dermatology specialists are saying?
A: Dermatology specialists, like doctors in general, use medical jargon when talking to one another, but when they have to communicate some info to patients, they usually resort to everyday talk. Still, if something is unclear to you, don’t let it sink into oblivion. Speak up. Ask the dermatology practitioner to explain it in plain language about your skin, hair or nail conditions and recommended treatment or care plans.
Q: What questions should I ask my dermatologist on my next appointment?
A: If you don’t have any complaints and are just doing a routine examination, you can still request information. Here are some examples: “How can I prevent blemishes on my skin?”, "Do I need to care about this mole?", “Is this skin condition serious? Will it lead to skin cancer?”, Which cream is good for my skin type?”, “How often shall I apply skin care?”, “What diet should I follow for better skin?”, and “Which SPF shall I wear?” The list goes on.
Q: When is a mole really a concern? When should I talk to a medical professional about it?
A: If a mole stays the same over time, then there is nothing to worry about. You should have it addressed if changes its shape or colour, or if it grows bigger, as this is one of the few symptoms of a larger problem like skin cancer.
Q: What are some reasons to remove a mole other than a melanoma?
A: If a mole looks unappealing to you or it gets easily irritated, you might want to consider eliminating it.
Tips on Choosing the Right Dermatologist for You in Singapore
So now that I’ve introduced some general heuristics towards understanding aesthetic dermatology and medical dermatology in Singapore, such as their specialisation training and their categories, here are a few tips to help you to find good dermatologists suitable for you:
- Determine whether the doctor is, in fact, a dermatology specialist. There are some doctors that have a Diploma in Dermatology, which is different from having a specialist qualification. Becoming a dermatology specialist requires a lengthy training period. One way to check is by going to the Dermatological Society of Singapore website and looking for the doctor’s name in their list of members.
- Weigh the pros and cons of choosing a public vs. a private dermatologist. Make a decision about which of money or time/convenience is more important to you if you are seeking help for your skin. If you value money more, then check if you are qualified for subsidies and set up an appointment with public dermatologists. If you prefer more convenient and faster appointments, you might prefer a dermatologist from private practice.
- Determine whether you need a cosmetic dermatologist or a medical dermatologist. Depending on your purpose for looking for a dermatologist, choose one who has specialised experience. There are a lot of cosmetic dermatologists if you want to have better skin, whereas if you need to manage a specific skin, hair and nails disease or disorder you have to search for skin doctors who have a history in dealing with the specific skin problem.
- Choose a dermatologist whose clinic offers the skin procedure that you need. Dermatology clinics offer a variety of different skin treatments and procedures, but not all of them have the specific treatment or procedure that you want. Call their skin clinic or check their website if they offer the type of treatment and care you require.
- Choose a dermatologist that you can communicate well with. During a consultation, observe if your dermatologist can talk to you easily about advice and can also listen well to your needs. It is important to form a good rapport with each other to build trust. This is probably one of the most important albeit underrated traits that a person needs from his/her dermatologist (or any doctor in general) – an ability to communicate well with his/her patient and explaining the treatment and care required by him or her.
That’s basically it. Hopefully, you’ll be more than equipped with the requisite info to find the dermatologist who can solve all your skin care needs!