What is a Dermatopathologist? Interview with Clay J. Cockerell, MD

“A Dermatopathologist is someone who’s an expert at looking at biopsies of the skin. So, if you were to go to say, a dermatologist or another doctor and they saw something they were concerned about; maybe you had a rash or you have something they thought might be skin cancer, they would take a biopsy and then they would send that to someone like me and I would look at
it and make a diagnosis.

Most consumers can ask their dermatologist when they go see them, if they get a biopsy, who’s going to be looking at that biopsy. It’s very important to make sure that the doctor gets the right diagnosis, so they’ll have the right treatment for that.

We see patients a lot of times who don’t get the right answer if it’s not looked at by an expert and that can cause problems. A dermatopathologist is trained in either pathology first or dermatology first and then we spend at least another year in very specialized training where all we do basically is look at biopsies of the skin and learn how to interpret those under the microscope and how to interact with doctors who do biopsies, so we can explain to them how to best treat their patients. So, it’s a very specialized technique.

There’s not more than just a few hundred of us in the United States. If a consumer or a patient were to get back a diagnosis or just they’re going to see the doctor, they should say, “Well, I know you’re getting ready to take a biopsy. I want to make sure that it’s read by somebody that’s really good. I want to make sure that my skin biopsy’s going to be read by somebody that gives the right answer and I’d like to know that you’re able to send it to the person that you feel the most comfortable with.”

Unfortunately, today some insurance companies don’t allow doctors to choose who they send it to. They kind of make them send it to some other group and they don’t have a relationship with them and sometimes they don’t get the answer back fast enough or they don’t get the right answer back and a lot of doctors aren’t happy that they have to be forced into that situation. A patient can actually have some impact on that.

We’ve had some patients actually write some letters to the insurance plans and gotten them to change their position to some cases. In other cases, we had some people say, “I’m willing to pay a little bit extra because I want to make sure that it’s the right answer. So, even though my insurance may not cover it at 100%, I’ll pay more to make sure that you and I both feel like we’re getting the best care for me.”


What is a Dermatopathologist? (2014) Retrieved July 2017, from https://www.realself.com/video/what-is-a-dermatopathologist#.WW9_0YTyuM8

Video with Transcirpt – realself.com (Clay J. Cockerell, MD) “What is a Dermatopathologist – A conversation with Dr. Clay Cockerell at the South Beach Symposium in Miami”.