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Study Shows More Than 200 Mobile Apps Related to Dermatology

Doctors urge caution to avoid inaccuracy (September 25)

A surge of mobile applications (apps) related to dermatology has allowed scores of smart-phone users to track and diagnose a wide range of skin diseases, but doctors are urging caution, according to a new study published in JAMA Dermatology.

“There are 229 dermatological applications out there, and most are free,” said senior author Robert Dellavalle, MD, PhD, MSPH. “Yet this is an area of ‘buyer beware’ because there are no regulations and no guarantees that these apps are providing accurate medical information.”

Self-surveillance and self-diagnosis apps vary widely in capabilities. Some allow patients to document lesions; to upload and receive dermatologist or algorithm-based feedback about the malignancy potential of lesions; to follow diagnosis algorithms; and to log personal treatment regimens. Others apps are focused on a single disorder, such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema.

The FDA announced on Sept. 23 that it would regulate only the small number of apps that act like medical instruments, such as those capable of performing ultrasounds or other procedures.

Dellavalle said the rise in medical apps in general — and in dermatology in particular — offers the chance to expand care into rural and underserved populations. They may also help mitigate the shortage of dermatologists nationwide, he said.

Still, he urged people to use common sense.

“There is a huge expansion of medical apps across all disciplines now. This will require some caution by users, but it also opens up new opportunities,” he said. “I think most apps are generally safe right now, but I would not rely solely on them. I would cross-reference them with other apps, with other people, and with [a] doctor.”

Source: University of Colorado, Denver; September 25, 2013.

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