Local dermatologist warns of potential harms with some health smartphone apps
Published Thursday, January 31, 2013 5:35PM MST
Last Updated Thursday, January 31, 2013 5:44PM MST
A local dermatologist is warning that certain health apps that suggest they can analyze skin lesions and detect skin cancer may hurt more than it helps.
Dr. Mariusz Sapijaszko says the technology could lead to misdiagnosis of lesions.
Sapijaszko has been in the business for 14 years and on Thursday, tested out one of a number of skin cancer smartphone apps on the market, to see just how accurate the results would be.
He analyzed the same mole three times with the app and came up with three different results, something he says is a cause for concern.
“I think that there are so many variables, in terms of the light, the way the light shines, the distance or some other variables that we don’t know that actually changes the result of the test and that's a bit scary,” he said.
“I’m surprised that looking at the same mole we had three different readings… all in a five-minute little trial. So that’s quite concerning.”
Sapijaszko said inaccurate results from these kinds of smartphone apps raises questions about the validity of these applications.
“I think it could potentially create unnecessary anxiety,” Sapijaszko said.
“You worry about it now and you’re calling your doctor, saying ‘I just realized my mole is irregular, big red flag here, can you have it checked?’ It’s not really giving a sense of security but at the same time it’s creating additional, unnecessary anxiety.”
A recent study published in Jama Dermatology suggests the accuracy of skin apps are concerning as 30 per cent of the time, they incorrectly classify melanomas as normal, something researchers says could mean slower diagnosis of potentially dangerous lesions.
“Although such applications have the potential to improve patient awareness and physician-patient communication, applications that provide any type of medical advice might result in harm to the patient if that advice is incorrect or misleading,” the study reports.
“This risk is of particular concern for economically disadvantaged and uninsured patients. Because a substantial percentage of melanomas are detected initially by patients, the potential effect of such applications on melanoma detection patterns is particularly relevant.”
The study suggests there are more 13,000 health care applications on the market today.
Sapijaszko says while the inexpensive apps can be fun, the technology is still years away from providing an accurate diagnosis.
“This is really for entertainment, for that purpose, maybe okay, but not for real medicine,” he said.
“We’re not at the point where we can substitute a visit to a nurse, doctor or specialize, for your skin or any other illness.”
He adds when it comes to skin conditions, prevention is key.
“Be careful with the sun, avoid tanning beds, just know your skin, know your moles, notice any changes in colour, shape, and size,” Sapijaszko said.
With files from Carmen Leibel