Pitt analysis of 4 smartphone apps for evaluating melanoma finds many errors

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Diagnosing skin cancer via smartphone?

Perhaps there should not be an app for that.

A study by the University of Pittsburgh evaluated four smartphone apps that evaluate melanoma by analyzing images submitted by the users.

One app functions by having a board-certified dermatologist look at the photos, while the other three apps analyze the photos by computer algorithm.

The best-performing of the computer-driven apps missed 30 percent of the melanoma cases, while the worst-performing missed 93 percent, according to the Pitt review.

The app that used actual physicians to diagnose the melanomas worked well, correctly identifying more than 98 percent of the submitted images.

The study did not identify the apps by name.

The study's lead researcher, Laura Ferris, worries that misdiagnosis by smartphone could harm patients in the long run.

"If they see a concerning lesion but the smartphone app incorrectly judges it to be benign, they might not follow up with a physician," Dr. Ferris, assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said. "A three-month delay could be the difference between high survival and low survival."

The findings are being published online today in JAMA Dermatology.

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Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.


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