Study Tests New Smartphone Technology Designed to Help Refer Dermatology Patients

dermA recent study published in the medical journal Acta Deramto-Venereologica recently found that doctors who used smartphones with attached dermoscopes were able to treat their patients faster and more efficiently than with traditional paper referrals. The study was conducted by Alexander Borve, the CEO of iDoc24, a teledermatology company with offices in Stolkholm, Sweden and San Francisco. These findings could be yet another push towards further improving the healthcare field by using available and evolving technology.

This study used participants who were visiting a primary care doctor for a “suspicious skin lesion.” The 122 doctors who participated referred 746 of these patients through the normal paper system; meanwhile, another 816 patients were tested with a piece of iDoc24’s software called Handyscope, which connects to an iPhone and uses medical imaging from a separate company called Fotofinder. The study found that by referring patients with teledermoscopy, patients who needed surgery waited less, doctors made more reliable triage decisions, skin cancer was diagnosed and treated more quickly, and more patients were able to be treated on their first visit to the dermatologist. In contrast, the paper referrals did not receive a response from the dermatologist for an average of five days after the initial appointment. Additionally, the doctors who performed triages on patients using teledermoscopy found 19 patients with high priority cases of malignant melanomas, accurately rating the priority of the visit. Meanwhile, 75% of the malignant melanoma cases that were rated medium or low priority with paper referrals were incorrect. In the end, 98% of the cases that used teledermoscopy were able to refer the patient, analyze the images, and create a treatment plan within 24 hours, making it extremely effective.

“While this technology is encouraging to see, there is no technology that can beat the process of getting a biopsy,” says Dr. Ted Schiff, MD at Water’s Edge Dermatology. “Things aren’t always what they seem on the surface, a biopsy is an invasive procedure that helps to further analyze cells by extracting cell tissue. Imaging technology paired with biopsy procedures will allow for effective diagnoses of lesions and other dermatology related issues.”

The study was further investigation of a preliminary trial iDoc24 conducted last year. In the first study, the company found that teledermatology using an iPhone and a dermascope is nearly as effective as a traditional face-to-face consultation. However, some minor problems with the technology may linger: four of the teledermoscopy referrals in the current study had to be excluded because of poor image quality.

These dermatology screenings are only the latest outreach method iDoc24 has used to test and promote their products: in May 2014, the company offered screenings for skin cancer to pedestrians in a San Francisco park. Using an app they had designed called FirstDerm, employees performed 99 screenings, finding 10 possible cancerous lesions, two possible cases of melanoma, and one possible case of basal cell carcinoma. With clear applications for this technology, there is a likelihood you could check yourself for skin cancer at home and arrange treatment within the next few days, greatly reducing mortality rates of melanoma and other conditions.