Survey: Dermatologists Say Climate Change Is Impacting Patients

Christine Kilgore

February 15, 2022

Global climate change is hitting home for dermatologists, according to a recent survey in which the majority of participants said their patients are already being impacted.

Almost 80% of the 148 participants who responded to an electronic survey reported this belief.

The survey was designed and distributed to the membership of various dermatological organizations by Misha Rosenbach, MD, and coauthors. The results were published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Asked also about specific types of climate-driven phenomena with a current – or future – impact on their patients, 80.1% reported that they believed that increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is impactful, or will be. Changes in temporal or geographic patterns of vector-borne illnesses were affirmed by 78.7%, and an increase in social displacement caused by extreme weather or other events was affirmed by 67.1% as having an impact on their patients currently or in the future.

Other phenomena affirmed by respondents as already having an impact or impacting patients in the future were an increased incidence of heat exposure or heat-related illness (58.2%); an increase in rates of inflammatory skin disease flares (43.2%); increased incidence of waterborne infections (42.5%); and increased rates of allergic contact dermatitis (29.5%).

The survey was sent to the membership of the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, the Society for Pediatric Dermatology, the Society for Investigative Dermatology, and the American Academy of Dermatology's Climate Change Expert Resource Group (ERG), among other organizations.

The study design and membership overlap made it impossible to calculate a response rate, the authors said, but they estimated it to be about 10%.

Almost all respondents were from the United States, and most (86.3%) practiced in an academic setting. The findings are similar to those of an online survey of members of the International Society of Dermatology (ISD), published in 2020, which found that 89% of 158 respondents believed climate change will impact the incidence of skin diseases in their area.

"Physicians, including dermatologists, are starting to understand the impact of the climate crisis on both their patients and themselves ... both through lived experiences and [issues raised] more in the scientific literature and in meetings," Rosenbach, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, said in an interview.

A majority of participants in the U.S. survey agreed they have a responsibility to bring awareness of the health effects of climate change to patients (77.2%) and to policymakers (88.6%). (In the ISD survey, 88% said they believed that dermatologists should play an advocacy role in climate change-related issues).

Only a minority of respondents in the U.S. survey said that they would feel comfortable discussing climate change with their patients (37.2%). Almost one-third of the respondents said they would like to be better informed about climate change before doing so. And 81.8% said they would like to read more about the dermatological effects of climate change in scientific journals.

"There continues to be unfilled interest in education and advocacy regarding climate change, suggesting a 'practice gap' even among dermatologists," Rosenbach and his colleagues wrote, noting opportunities for professional organizations and journals to provide more resources and "actionable items" regarding climate change.

Some dermatologists have been taking action, in the meantime, to reduce the carbon footprint of their practices and institutions. Reductions in facility energy consumption, and reductions in medical waste/optimization of recycling, were each reported by more than one-third of survey respondents.

And almost half indicated that their practice or institution had increased capacity for telemedicine or telecommuting in response to climate change. Only 8% said their practice or institution had divested from fossil fuel stocks and/or bonds.

"There are a lot of sustainability-in-medicine solutions that are actually cost-neutral or cost-saving for practices," said Rosenbach, who is a founder and co-chair of the AAD's ERG on Climate Change and Environmental Issues.

Research in dermatology is starting to quantify the environmental impact of some of these changes. In a research letter also published in the British Journal of Dermatology, researchers from Cardiff University and the department of dermatology at University Hospital of Wales, described how they determined that reusable surgical packs used for skin surgery are more sustainable than single-use packs because of their reduced cost and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Such single-site reports are "early feeders" into what will become a stream of larger studies quantifying the impact of measures taken in dermatology, Rosenbach said.

Across medicine, there is evidence that health care professionals are now seeing climate change as a threat to their patients. In a multinational survey published last year in The Lancet Planetary Health, 77% of 3,977 participants said that climate change will cause a moderate or great deal of harm for their patients.

Climate change will be discussed at the AAD's annual meeting in late March in a session devoted to the topic, and as part of a broader session on controversies in dermatology.

Rosenbach and two of the five authors of the dermatology research letter are members of the AAD's ERG on climate change, but in the publication they noted that they were not writing on behalf of the AAD. None of the authors reported any disclosures, and there was no funding source for the survey.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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