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The changing face of dermatological practice: 25 years’ experience


  • Conflicts of interest
    None declared.

Claire Benton.


Background  In order to plan appropriate delivery of dermatology services we need periodically to assess the type of work we undertake and to examine changing trends in the numbers and type of referrals and the workload these referrals generate.

Objectives  To quantify outpatient workload in hospital-based and private practice; to assess reasons for referral to secondary care and to examine the changes over 25 years in the diagnostic spectrum of conditions referred.

Methods  During November 2005, all outpatient dermatological consultations in the south-east of Scotland were recorded. Demographic data, source of and reason for referral, diagnoses, investigations performed, treatment administered and disposal were recorded, and comparisons made with four previous studies.

Results  During the 1-month study, attendances were recorded for 2118 new and 2796 review patients (new/review 1 : 1·3, female/male 1·3 : 1, age range 0–106 years). Eighty-nine per cent of new referrals came from primary care and 11% from secondary care. Fifty-seven per cent of referrals were for diagnosis and 38% for management advice. Benign tumours accounted for 33·4%, malignant tumours 11·6%, eczema 16% and psoriasis 7·4% of new cases. For return patients, 20% had skin cancer, 16·5% eczema, 13·4% psoriasis and 9% acne. The referral rate has risen over 25 years from 12·6 per 1000 population in 1980 to 21 per 1000 in 2005, with secondary care referrals increasing from 61 in November 1980 to 230 in November 2005.

Conclusions  Attendances for benign and malignant skin tumours have increased sixfold since 1980. Patients with eczema and psoriasis account for one third of clinic visits. New referrals have risen by 67%, with those from other hospital specialties almost quadrupling since 1980 to 11% of the total in 2005. These results confirm the demand from both primary and secondary care for a specialist dermatology service.