Finding a Healthcare Provider

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | June 2017

People with atopic dermatitis (AD) may have several doctors and other health care professionals on their health care team to help manage the disease and its effects on their quality of life. Health care professionals may be generalists or specialists. Generalists are those who consider the patient as a whole, while specialists are focused on one particular system or area.

Depending on the patients’ needs, both generalists and specialists can play an important role.1 A primary care provider, such as a pediatrician, may first diagnose AD. However, in some cases, a referral to a dermatologist is recommended.

Primary care physician

A primary care physician (PCP) is generally the one who coordinates all of the patient’s care. PCPs may be family medicine physicians, internal medicine physicians, or pediatricians. The PCP is often the first point of contact for the patient and provides comprehensive care for chronic, preventive and acute conditions. They regularly handle vaccinations, address urgent needs such as respiratory infections, and handle routine screening tests.

For people with chronic conditions like AD, having a PCP instead of utilizing an urgent care facility for acute needs means that the patient’s entire history and background will be taken into consideration.3


A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of children. Pediatricians provide preventive health maintenance as well as medical care for children who are acutely or chronically ill. Pediatricians are trained to manage the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of their patients. They generally focus on infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.4


Dermatologists specialize in the treatment of the skin, hair, nails and mucous membranes (the lining inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids). They have medical degrees and have received additional training in the field of dermatology. Dermatologists diagnose and treat thousands of different diseases, including atopic dermatitis, also known as atopic eczema.5 Dermatologists provide expertise in cases of atopic dermatitis that may be difficult to diagnose or to treat.

When referral to a dermatologist is needed

Some examples when a referral to a dermatologist is needed are:

  • There is an uncertain diagnosis
  • Attempts at managing the condition have not controlled the symptoms
  • The patient has AD on the face that has not responded to treatment
  • There are frequent flare-ups or severe AD
  • There is a need for systemic therapies
  • AD is causing significant psychosocial disturbances, including sleep disruption or reduced attendance at work or school
  • Contact dermatitis (a skin condition characterized by a reaction when the skin comes into contact with an irritating or allergic substance) is suspected2


An allergist is a doctor who is specially trained to diagnose, treat, and manage allergies, asthma and other immunologic disorders. After completing medical school, allergists must undergo additional training in internal medicine or pediatrics before completing another two years of study in an allergy/immunology training program.

Allergists help people treat or prevent allergies and can perform allergy testing to determine which allergens are triggering a reaction. Allergists also provide prevention education, prescriptions for allergy medications, and immunotherapy (also known as allergy shots).6

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