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.
Dermatologist Specialist Training in Singapore
I was pretty excited to have finally graduated from med school – until I realized that to specialize 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 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 recognized as associate consultants in dermatology.
Choosing a Private or Public Dermatologist
Pros and Cons
In choosing a dermatologist 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 have their 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 private practice. In these clinics, usually, an appointment can be given in as fast as 1 to 3 days. There are even doctors who accept walk-in patients as long as it can fit in their schedule. The only downside is that private doctors usually charge more for their services (as much as 2 to 4 times more) than doctors in public hospitals. If money isn’t much of an issue, or if you value your convenience and time more, then finding a dermatologist in private practice is your best bet.
Your other option is to look for a dermatologist in a public hospital or clinic, such as the NSC. The total costs for appointment and treatment are subsidized, which means that costs are about 40 to 60% cheaper compared to private 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 dermatologist (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. 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.
If you’re consulting with a dermatologist in a public hospital such as the NSC, due to subsidies it would cost you about $35 to $60 for a first-time consultation. Follow-up consultations cost about $3 to $5 cheaper. Drugs and medication are also subsidized by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and would cost you a fraction of the price compared to buying from a private pharmacy or clinic. Total costs of consultation plus medication would be about $100 to $200.
Procedure and Treatment Costs
Whether or not you are eligible for subsidies or Medisave claims on skin procedures and treatments depends on the assessment of your 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 procedure or treatment cost difference between a public or private dermatologist is negligible. My best advice is to choose a hospital or clinic that has a good and proven track record with the procedure of your choosing. These procedures or treatments include:
However, if your procedure is deemed by the hospital or clinic to be a necessary one, then subsidies and claims may be given on a case to case basis.
Obtaining Subsidies for Public Dermatologists
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 dermatologist, 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) are equipped to treat and manage common skin 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, the polyclinic may refer you to consult with an NSC dermatologist. The National Skin Centre are much more experienced in dealing with skin diseases and conditions and can offer treatments and procedures that are unavailable in polyclinics.
Types of Dermatologists in Singapore
There are 2 main categories of dermatologists here in Singapore:
- Dermatologists that focus on medical dermatology. These dermatologists are the ones that have a lot of knowledge and experience when it comes to diagnosing, managing and treating skin diseases and conditions such as:
- Skin Cancers
- Pediatric Dermatology
- Skin allergies
- Autoimmune skin disorders
- Hair loss
- Cosmetic Dermatologists. These dermatologists focus on providing cosmetic procedures and treatments for various aesthetic problems. Usually, their clinics provide at least one of the following services to their clients:
- Thread Lifts
- Excision Surgery
- Laser Surgery
Usually, there is a lot of overlap between these two categories, with a lot of dermatologists being able to help with skin disorders or cosmetic skin matters. More often than not though, doctors specialize in one of these to be able to give their patients the best care and treatment for the patient’s specific problem/s.
Dermatologists at the National Skin Centre usually belong to the first category, but a lot of them also provide cosmetic services for their patients. Dermatologists in private practice are more varied with plenty of them offering both services to their clients.
Tips in Choosing the Right Dermatologist for You
So now that I’ve introduced some general heuristics towards understanding dermatologists in Singapore, such as their specialization training and their categories, here are a few tips to help you to find a dermatologist 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 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 specialized experience. There are a lot of cosmetic dermatologists if you want to have better skin, whereas if you need to manage a specific skin disease or disorder you have to search for 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 clinic or check their website if they offer the type of treatment 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.
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!