When I was growing up, there were few dermatologists who treated vitiligo. In fact, most of the dermatologists my parents took me to had never seen vitiligo before. Today, it’s a different story. Vitiligo research and awareness of the disease has grown exponentially. However, while many dermatologists treat vitiligo today, few specialize in treating it. As a result, not every doctor is able to deliver the same level of care for people with vitiligo.
Your best chance for a positive treatment outcome is to find a dermatologist who specializes in treating this complex disease. The next-best option is to see a board-certified dermatologist who works in an academic setting and is more likely to be up to date on new developments. What if there aren’t any vitiligo specialists or board-certified dermatologists near you? You can still be intentional about finding a dermatologist who’s right for you and your treatment goals.
Here are four things to consider when seeking a dermatologist for vitiligo treatment.
Do your homework
The more you know about vitiligo, the better prepared you will be to discuss it with your doctor. You don’t need to have all the answers but having some verified information on your condition can help you feel comfortable discussing treatment options. Being equipped with solid information can also help you assess your doctor’s familiarity with treating vitiligo. Because there is a lot of misinformation about vitiligo online today, it is important to identify reliable sources of information. You can start with 21 facts about vitiligo. These facts have been verified by leading experts in the field of vitiligo research. You can also find verified resources and information at the Global Vitiligo Foundation, an organization of the world’s leading vitiligo experts and advocates.
Prepare a list of questions
You wouldn’t leave your child with a sitter you hadn’t interviewed. So, why would you commit to a treatment plan with a doctor you haven’t vetted? A list of questions will guide you to the information you need. Here are a few questions you might ask: How many vitiligo patients do you treat regularly? What treatment methods do you use? What do you consider a good outcome, and have you seen good outcomes in your patients? Are you optimistic about the treatments that are available? Your doctor’s answers will tell you a lot about his or her willingness to partner with you to find the best treatment for your vitiligo.
Share your treatment goals
There is no cure for vitiligo. That means treatment designed to encourage repigmentation is an on-going process. Knowing what to expect during this process is critical. Discussing your treatment goals early on will ensure that your expectations align with your dermatologist’s. Being overly optimistic about your prognosis can lead to disappointment and frustration but being overly pessimistic can make you give up on treatment too soon. Being positive, communicative and receptive is the best approach. Talk to your doctor about what you to hope to achieve from treatment. Are you most concerned about the vitiligo on your face or hands? Are you afraid that your vitiligo is spreading rapidly? Would you like to try a particular type of treatment? Sharing your preferences and concerns with your doctor early on is key to defining a realistic treatment goal and understanding the steps toward reaching that goal.
Pay attention to how you feel
Dermatologists are not therapists. However, some doctors naturally show more empathy for patients than others. Dealing with vitiligo is not easy. If having an emotionally supportive relationship with your doctor is important to you, then consider how your dermatologist interacts with you during your first few appointments. Does your doctor routinely ask how you are coping? Is he or she taking the time to answer all your questions? Are you confident that your doctor in invested in your treatment? Evaluating how you feel during your appointments is key in determining the kind of support you need and expect from your doctor.
What do you think makes a dermatologist great?
Karen Ruffin is a writer and interior decorator in Atlanta, GA. She has had non-segmental vitiligo for 47 years, starting when she was 7. As a contributor to Living Dappled, she shares her journey and perspective on how to live well with vitiligo.