Using smartphones to check for skin cancer

A lot of mobile apps are just for fun, but some┬ácategories are really useful. The Atlantic has an impressive review of dermatology apps, and I encourage you to read it. These apps have serious potential because they address the shortage and maldistribution of dermatologists, leverage smartphones’ photographic and GPS capabilities, and in some cases make use of advanced algorithms.

One way you can tell that these apps are serious is that all of them have end-user fees associated with them. Most are $4.99 for the apps; others have fees for consultations either in addition to or in lieu of charging for the app.

A typical use case is to keep track of moles, most –but not all of which– are benign. The user takes photos with the smartphone, which are then analyzed by a computer or a real live person (or presumably both in some cases). This makes it easier to have the situation addressed quickly rather than waiting around for an appointment. Some apps allow users to archive their results, which means they can keep track of mole growth over a longer time period. I can even imagine that these apps would be useful in the context of an in-peson doctor visit because the patient can show the doctor what’s happening over time.

This kind of approach should enable connections between US patients and overseas dermatologists, and vice versa. And there are all sorts of possibilities for growth as the technology and data improve. For example, images could be automatically routed to dermatologists who are experts in certain conditions. Quality ratings for doctors could go beyond the usual subjective reviews to include information on how frequently the physician made the right diagnosis. And databases of images could be developed and analyzed.

September 14, 2012

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