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Nope, An App Isn’t Going to Diagnose Melanoma

There’s a whole slew of smartphone apps that have become increasingly useful in the healthcare field. In fact, there are over 13,000 apps designed to educate people on their health and provide diagnosis. However, a study from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has determined that three out of four apps that claim to assess skin lesions incorrectly diagnosed 30 percent or more cases of melanoma as “unconcerning”.

Researchers examined 60 digital images of melanoma and 128 benign control lesions that had been diagnosed by a board-certified dermatopathologist before biopsy. They only evaluated images that featured the lesion in close-up detail, and fit one of the six categories: seborrheic keratosis, melanoma in situ, lentigo, benign nevus (including compound, junctional, and low-grade dysplastic nevi), invasive melanoma, dermatofibroma, and hemangioma.

Two of the four applications evaluated used automated algorithms to detect the lesion and provide a melanoma diagnosis. The third app requires users to upload an image in order to be determined as “high risk”, “medium risk”, or “low risk”. The fourth app appeared to be more sophisticated than the others, as it claims to send the user-uploaded image to a board-certified dermatologist for diagnosis. However, when the researchers tested it, some images only received responses like “send another photograph” or “unable to categorize”. It was also unclear as to who the dermatologist actually is.

Although the apps are meant to be used as educational resources — not tools for diagnosis — people still decide to use them because they’re cheaper than seeking a dermatologist consultation. Yet, despite the efficiency and low cost of these apps, they ultimately delay melanoma diagnosis and can be misleading or endanger a patient’s health.

Physicians must be aware of these applications because the use of medical applications seems to be increasing over time,” write the researchers. “However, given the recent media and legislative interest in such applications, the dermatologist should be aware of those relevant to our field to aid us in protecting and educating our patients.


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