Take Charge Of Your Health Today. Be Informed. Be Involved…Skin Health

This month, the “Take Charge of Your Health Today” page focuses on the importance of your skin and its relationship to your health. The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused hospitals and community clinics to use tools like telehealth and virtual appointments to help care for patients. Erricka Hager and Bee Schindler, community engagement coordinators, CTSI, and Esther L. Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, spoke about this topic.

EH: Good afternoon, Ms. Bush. This month we’re taking a more specific look at a health topic that sometimes doesn’t get much attention—skin health. I think it’s an important topic for us to discuss, especially when our community might not understand the importance of protecting their skin from the sun. In the overview, Alaina J. James, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, reminds us why it’s crucial to wear sunscreen.

EB: It sure is, Erricka. I’m glad that this page helps to debunk myths about different medical topics. Dr. James goes on to mention that African American communities still suffer from disparities in skincare. These disparities include limited access to dermatologists or physician observations and some people having little to no insurance.

BS: Yes, Ms. Bush. I think it’s important to mention that dermatologists and their perceptions play a major role in the increase of skincare disparities. Dermatologists should be mindful that skin cancer can look different with African American patients. Different presentations of skin cancer can cause delayed diagnosis and treatment. Questioning your doctor about bumps or spots that you notice on your body could help to flag issues. Results from the Health Information National Trends Survey show that misperceptions about skin cancer are higher in African American communities. It’s important for people to understand how skin cancer plays a large and scary role so that they can advocate for themselves by taking small steps to lower their overall risks.

EB: I’m curious: What are researchers doing to dispel some of these misperceptions about skin cancer? I’m sure Dr. James and others at the University of Pittsburgh are identifying ways to address these misperceptions.

EH: Absolutely, Ms. Bush. I think the key thing to combat these misperceptions is education. Education for both patients and providers will help to reduce skin health disparities. Dr. James has created a wonderful program called MobileDerm. MobileDerm uses a telehealth model that allows the dermatologist to care for their patients virtually after first meeting in person. I think what’s unique about MobileDerm is that it provides direct education to communities in spaces where they feel comfortable. MobileDerm is essentially meeting people where they are.

BS: I second that, Erricka. Education is crucial for all sides. We often encourage our readers to get involved with research studies but rarely provide similar requests for providers. While it is important to increase the knowledge and awareness of skin health in African American communities, providers and researchers must also do their parts. It’s vital that providers listen to and honor patients’ inquiries about skin health and then have the same level of follow-up that they would have with their white patients.

EB: Thank you so much for your time and thoughts, Bee and Erricka. As usual, we have continued to provide our readers with the necessary resources to help them navigate the changing landscape due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to hearing your thoughts next month as we discuss vaccine trials and the community.

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