Apparently, computer-based diagnostic algorithms provided cheaply via a smartphone aren’t reliable. Who would have guessed? There’s a slew of new apps available that allow you to take a picture of your weird mole or mysterious skin lesion, and they’ll then scan it and tell you whether you’ve got melanoma or not. You should be wary. When real doctors actually test their competence, the dermatology apps fail miserably.
Dermatologists are less than thrilled. In fact, they say, the apps are worthless. Writing in JAMA Dermatology, a team of physicians from the University of Pittsburgh put four melanoma apps to the test against 188 clinical images—pictures they’d taken of patients’ skin lesions and later determined, via biopsy, to be malignant or benign. How would a machine stack up against a board-certified dermatologist?
Not so well. Of the three auto-diagnosing apps, the best program missed malignant growths 30 percent of the time; a second performed only slightly better than flipping a coin.
One app, instead of using an algorithm, simply forwarded the photo to an accredited dermatologist, who responded with his considered opinion 24 hours later. At five dollars per lesion, this was the most expensive program, though the e-doctor misdiagnosed just one in 53 melanomas.
They’ve got testimonials from users praising the results, which makes me wonder…if your phone told you you didn’t have cancer, how the hell would you know if it was right or not?
It’s the oldest principle of quackery: tell the patient what they want to hear, and they’ll reward you with agreement.