Be careful about diagnostic health apps

There is tremendous potential with using apps and connectivity to improve health care. We can now accomplish incredible things using today’s technology, but there will be limits.

Here’s an article about how four new apps for skin care fared when tested to identify melanoma. Three of the four had very poor ratings, but the reason is very interesting.

Here’s the important thing: The three apps that failed to spot melanomas 30% of the time all use digital image analysis techniques. Computers decide whether a mole is cancerous or not. The fourth app actually sends images to a dermatologist, who replies with an evaluation in 24 hours. That fourth app correctly identified 52 out of 53 melanomas that researchers sent along. Such accuracy doesn’t come cheap–the app charges $5 per image, which is enough to drive many people towards the cheaper digital image analysis apps (they ranged from free to $4.99, with no individual charge per lesion).

The key here is that software and machines can only take us so far, at least with today’s technology. Apps like this work best when there is a human component. I suspect that the machine can handle the very easy cases, but then we need an expert to make the tough calls.

So get excited, but stay wary when you hear some of these claims.

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