Opinion Articles

Thursday, January 17, 2013

That application on your smartphone could kill you

New study looks at the accuracy of apps that provide feedback on medical conditions

Mark Bridge writes:

Smartphones and health are linked in many positive ways, from remote patient monitoring via a mobile network to applications that enhance medical education.

However, patients are being warned not to assume their smartphones are as smart as they might appear.

A study led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has been looking at mobile applications that analyse photographs of skin lesions and evaluate them for the likelihood of cancer.

Three out of the four smartphone applications they tested provided an incorrect diagnosis of ‘unconcerning’ for at least 30% of melanomas; a failure that could result in a patient failing to receive life-saving treatment. The fourth mobile app, which forwarded the images to a dermatologist, provided a correct diagnosis of malignant melanomas in 52 out of 53 cases.

Although the apps included disclaimers that pointed out their use was for ‘educational purposes only’, researchers noted that patients might rely on the application rather than contacting a medical professional for advice.

Dr Laura Ferris, lead researcher for the study, said “Smartphone usage is rapidly increasing, and the applications available to consumers have moved beyond communication and entertainment to everything under the sun, including health care. These tools may help patients be more mindful about their health care and improve communication between themselves and their physicians, but it’s important that users don’t allow their ‘apps’ to take the place of medical advice and physician diagnosis. Technologies that decrease the mortality rate by improving self- and early-detection of melanomas would be a welcome addition to dermatology. But we have to make sure patients aren’t being harmed by tools that deliver inaccurate results.”

The results of the study - Diagnostic Inaccuracy of Smartphone Applications for Melanoma Detection - have been published in the JAMA Dermatology journal and are available online.

Author: The Fonecast
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