Summer isn’t the only time of year that brings sunburns to South Florida residents. However, May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, since it’s when the rest of the country sheds their sweaters to get sunshine. While it’s a good month for a sun safety refresher, it’s a great time to schedule a skin cancer screening. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends every person over 25 should receive a professional skin cancer screening annually (and every six months for people with a history of skin cancer), as one in five people develops skin cancer before age 70. Getting sunburned more than five times in a lifetime doubles the odds of developing some forms of skin cancer.
While skin cancers are the most common form of cancer, caught early, they’re also the most successfully treatable malignancy. However, the tricky bit can be scheduling an appointment for that yearly screening, as most dermatology offices book nearly 90 days out. That’s where a new dermatology practice can change the odds — OnSpot Dermatology’s mobile clinics bring dermatology out into the community.
“Many of our patients are those who don’t take the time or have never even seen a dermatologist because appointments are incredibly difficult to get,” said Don Hunt Jr., president of OnSpot Dermatology. “It’s one of the hardest specialist appointments to get. A lot of people push off these appointments because the wait times are so long. But also — let’s face it — when you have a spot on your arm you might be worried about, it’s not like you’re in a lot of pain, so it’s easy to push out seeking an appointment. Most people work 9-to-5, and so do doctors, so people don’t take the time. We’re a different model being mobile, so we go directly to corporate and community partners to make it easy for people to get appointments.”
Most major health insurers or Medicare may cover the cost of preventative skin cancer screenings, and OnSpot Dermatology does accept insurance. The practice also offers a self-pay option. For more details, check the FAQ section of OnSpot’s website or telephone the practice. While it takes time at the intake to register and input insurance information (or collect payment from patients who are self-paying), the actual exam takes about 15 minutes. Patients choose how much skin to expose, based on personal comfort levels. While it’s ideal to strip and don a paper gown to get checked even where the sun doesn’t shine, some patients opt only to have an examination of their extremities that regularly see the light.
“Some people don’t want to get undressed,” Mr. Hunt said. “They just want a spot check and don’t want to get undressed for a full-body. That’s their decision. Most of the time, we’re doing full-body exams where they get into a gown, and we’re doing a thorough exam to check out any irregular moles on their body.”
In the last 14 months, Mr. Hunt said OnSpot Dermatology has performed 19,365 exams. During those, they’ve found over 1,900 cancerous cases and about 850 pre-cancers that could eventually turn into cancer. Additionally, they have found 76 melanoma cases. (The national average is 25 melanomas found during 18,000 exams, which could point to the dangers of Florida’s strong sun.)
“People don’t know they really should be getting checked annually because a lot of these moles and spots on their body, they can grow very quickly,” Mr. Hunt said. “In just a few weeks, a spot can become life-threatening.”
With any luck, an exam reveals no concerns. But if not, OnSpot Dermatology can also bring the treatment to the patient. Their mobile clinics offer Mohs surgery, the least invasive technique for removing skin cancer.
“If detected early, the Skin Cancer Foundation says that skin cancer is 99% treatable, and a big part of that is the Mohs procedure, which is the gold standard for treatment,” Mr. Hunt said. “Our medical director, Dr. Allan Harrington, is actually the most-seen Mohs surgeon in the country. He’s done over 80,000 procedures.”
With Mohs, the biopsy is done onsite while the patient waits. This allows the doctor to operate strategically and conservatively, and then immediately learn if he successfully removed all the cancer cells. If he didn’t achieve a margin of clean cells around the cancer, he can immediately bring the patient in to remove more, doing another biopsy to be certain all the cancer is gone. This eliminates the old technique of cutting an unnecessarily large swath of skin and underlying tissue, thereby reducing scar size.
After 14 months in business, the service has proven so popular that OnSpot Dermatology has expanded to four mobile clinics running routes throughout South and Central Florida. What helps the practice keep the wait time for appointments short is that the mobile model is scalable — they can add more clinics and personnel to their fleet as demand increases. It also allows flexibility that a brick-and-mortar dermatology practice lacks, as they can move the clinics to where demand for appointments is higher in any given month as Florida’s population fluctuates based on season.
Community partners include workplaces, gated communities, shopping malls, YMCAs, schools, local government offices and other public locations. Some partners host clinic visits on a regular monthly schedule. While it’s better to book an appointment ahead of the mobile clinic’s visit to the location of choice, OnSpot Dermatology keeps a limited number of walk-up appointments available — especially at very public locations such as shopping malls — for the people who inevitably learn about the mobile clinics only by seeing one set up onsite.
“There are so many people that just walked by our truck and decided to get an appointment,” Mr. Hunt said. “We’ve saved lives by bringing our practice out directly to the patients. We have an efficient schedule, promoting beforehand with our community partners, but we have some open appointments for walk-ups because we get a lot of people coming up to our mobile clinics to ask questions and then wanting an appointment, so we want to accommodate those requests. We’re helping so many people who would never even think to get an exam. It’s so easy, and like we say, those 15 minutes could save your life.” ¦