Study: Patients, Doctors Should Remain Wary of Dermatology Apps


Consumers and physicians should be wary of relying on mobile dermatology applications for medical diagnosis and treatment, according to a study published Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology, Reuters reports.

The study comes one week after FDA issued final guidance for mobile health apps (Pittman, Reuters, 9/26).

Background on FDA Guidance

According to the final guidance released on Sept. 23, FDA will focus oversight on apps that:

  • Were developed to be used as accessories to regulated medical devices, such as apps that allow health care providers to make diagnoses by viewing medical images on smartphones or tablets; or
  • Can transform mobile devices into regulated medical devices, such as apps that allow a smartphone to be used as an electrocardiography machine (iHealthBeat, 9/23).

Study Details

Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine searched five online app stores for dermatology-related apps.

The researchers found 209 apps, including:

  • 10 that had a minimum of 35 reviews; and
  • Eight that connected patients in remote areas to dermatologists.

The most frequently reviewed apps for the general public were:

  • iSore, a directory of skin conditions;
  • SPF, an app that calculates the time a user can be in the sun based on UV index and skin type;
  • SpotMole, an app designed to inspect pictures of moles for signs of cancer; and
  • Ultraviolet ~ UV Index, an app that shows the UV index for the user's current location.

About half of the apps were available at no-cost, with the rest averaging $2.99 each.

Researchers noted that few of the apps were developed by medical professionals.

Author Comments

Robert Dellavalle -- lead author of the study and a dermatologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine -- called the industry of dermatology-related mobile apps a "buyer-beware atmosphere."

He recommended consumers cross-reference information from such apps with other resources or a dermatologist (Reuters, 9/26).

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