Mobile Apps Abound for Dermatologists, But Reviews Are Mixed

Damian McNamara

March 15, 2013

MIAMI BEACH, Florida — Dermatologists are experienced in recommending topical applications, but what about when the topic is applications? Mobile apps are cropping up for physicians and patients, and a new study has shed light on what is available and which ones are worthwhile.

Ann Chang Brewer

Researchers, led by Ann Chang Brewer, BS, a medical student at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix, evaluated options for Apple, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia, and Windows platforms. She presented the results here at the American Academy of Dermatology 71st Annual Meeting.

The team searched several app stores for the terms dermatology, melanoma, skin cancer, psoriasis, rosacea, and acne.

"We want to know what kind of information and tools are out there," Brewer told Medscape Medical News. "We identified 255 unique apps and categorized them based on their descriptions," she explianed.

About half the dermatology-related apps can be downloaded for free. For those that require payment, the median price was $2.99. "The most expensive app was $139.99; it is essentially a textbook," Brewer said.

Of the 255 apps, 142 are primarily intended for patient use and 95 are intended for professionals. The remaining 18 are intended for both; for example, there is an app in which the patient takes photos and sends them to a physician to monitor skin changes over time.

Table. Overview of Mobile Apps (n = 255)

Type Number
General dermatology 62
Single condition 62
Self-diagnosis or surveillance 43
Educational 20
Sunscreen or ultraviolet exposure 19
Clinical calculators 12
Teledermatology 8
Journal 6
Conferences 6
Photo storage or sharing 5
Dermatoscopy 2
Pathology 2
Other 8

 

Smartphones are increasingly popular. "In 2012, an estimated 80% of physicians used smartphones," Brewer reported, and more than 50% use them on a daily basis. Mobile apps are not going to replace physician interaction or clinical judgment, but will play an increasingly sophisticated role," Brewer noted.

The researchers ranked the most popular skin-related apps according to the number of online reviews.

Table. Online Reviews of Mobile Apps

App Number of Reviews
Ultraviolet index 355
VisualDx 306
Sun Protection Factor 128
iSore 61
SpotMole 50

 

The researchers found that sunscreen and ultraviolet-exposure apps are growing in popularity. Some provide sun-exposure information using the smartphone's global positioning system; others come with a timer to remind a person when to reapply sunscreen.

Teledermatology is an area where mobile apps could play a greater role, Brewer pointed out. "As this technology grows and is more widely used, it will increase access for people who otherwise would not have access to dermatology services," Brewer explained.

Still, she cautioned that "it's important to know the authorship of these apps." There is a range of quality.

Girish Munavalli, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Charlotte, North Carolina, told Medscape Medical News that this study helps "to identify a growing trend." However, "I would have liked to have seen this separated into patient education tools and MD tools," he noted.

Dr. Munavalli, who was not part of the study, said he "would caution against using information from any apps that aren't from legitimate, respectable, or peer-reviewed publishers or sources." Dr. Munavalli, who is affiliated with the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, explained that "if a dermatologist finds certain apps that contain legitimate unbiased information, tutorials, or diagrams that educate their patients on concepts such as conducting proper skin self-exams, proper application of sunscreen, and ABCDEs of moles, they should consider recommending them to their patients."

Jeffrey Ellis, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Plainview, New York, who was asked by Medscape Medical News to comment on the study, said "it is difficult to make a generalized statement about the value to society and or the value to physicians of all apps, but there are certainly quality ones among the bunch that could be of use to both. There are also likely ones in the bunch that may be misguiding and potentially causing harm."

Dr. Ellis, who is affiliated with North Shore/Long Island Jewish Hospital in Plainview, agrees "that dermatology-related apps have great potential to augment the delivery of dermatologic care through the use of skin surveillance, teledermatology, and educational references. However, one must also proceed with caution," he said, adding that "the intended audience, quality, and reviewers of the app are among the questions to consider."

The researchers, Dr. Munavalli, and Dr. Ellis have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) 71st Annual Meeting: Abstract P6759. Presented March 2, 2013.

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