Friday, November 2, 2007
Medical Reports: The Doctor is Out
A recent California study reveals dermatologists here in South Florida are giving preference to patients who want cosmetic procedures over those with potential skin cancer. Seven News decided to put it to the test and as Belkys Nerey discovered The Doctor is Out.
WSVN -- When you call your doctor, you want to get in right away, especially if you think something is wrong.
Debbie McWilliams: "The first time that I realized there was something wrong I had like a sore."
One week later, Debbie McWilliams was told she had skin cancer.
Debbie McWilliams: "It was diagnosed as basil cell."
Most dermatologists say a suspicious mole should be checked immediately.
Dr. Valentina Bradley: "Skin cancer is extremely dangerous, especially here in Florida."
So you would think doctors here in sunny South Florida would give preferential treatment to checking spots, but think again.
Seven News Employee: "I have a spot on my arm that needs to be checked."
Seven News employees made appointments with more than two dozen dermatologists in both Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
Seven News Employee: "I'm calling because I need an appointment to have a spot check."
For skin check appointments, each specifically mentioned symptoms that typically point to cancer.
Seven News Employee: "It's slightly raised. It's been itching, you know. I don't know how soon I need to get in."
In most cases, we were able to get in within a week.
Seven News Employee: "Next week, OK. What day?"
But in others, the wait was very long.
Seven News Employee: "You don't have anything until January."
On the same day, we called back the same offices asking for the same doctor to do Botox injections.
Seven News Employee: "I'd like to make an appointment for Botox(R)."
Most appointments were made within days, some even the very next day. In Miami-Dade County, seven out of 12 offices scheduled Botox(R) Cosmetic patients first. In Broward County, just two out of 12.
Belkys Nerey: "The worst example? Our mole patient who made one phone call to a Miami office and was told they could not get her in until January. Meantime, the Botox(R) patient call that very same office and was told they can get her in the following week. They even apologized to the Botox(R) patient telling her they could've gotten her in sooner, but the doctor was on vacation."
Dr. Alexa Kimball: "I have been studying this since 1999."
Doctor Alexa Kimball of Harvard Medical School disputes tests like ours and the California study.
Dr. Alexa Kimball: "On average, Dermatologists spend no more than 10 percent of their time doing these types of procedures."
Only one of the doctors who gave the Botox(R) Cosmetic appointment first agreed to talk to us on camera. He says we just got lucky in getting a better appointment for Botox(R) Cosmetic.
Dr. Don Shalhub: "You call and there is no cosmetic patients scheduled for that day. Yes, that could happen."
Doctor Shalhub says he does give cosmetic patients convenience and schedules them as soon as he can but says our employee should have pushed for a better appointment.
Dr. Don Shalhub: "If you would have told them, 'I'd like to see the dermatologist sooner,' they would have accommodated you."
East Side Dermatology was one of the best offices, they scheduled us in 48 hours for cancer and one week later for Botox(R) Cosmetic.
Our skin cancer survivor Debbie was appalled by our results and says those doctors need a wake up call.
Debbie McWilliams: "I don't think that's fair. This is serious."
Belkys Nerey: "The lesson learned here: if the doctor can't give you an immediate appointment, call a different one until you find someone who can get you in right away."