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Melanoma apps put users at risk, researchers say

Joel A. Wolf and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center tested sensitivity and the positive and negative reading values of 188 images of lesions across four apps

Researchers are warning the public about using smartphone apps which ‘diagnose’ skin melanomas.

In a paper published by Online First by JAMA Dermatology, researchers found 75 per cent of smartphone apps incorrectly classified 30 per cent or more of melanomas as unconcerning.

Smartphone apps evaluate photos of skin lesions and tell the user about the likelihood of lesions being malignant.

Joel A. Wolf and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center tested sensitivity of the apps and the positive and negative reading values of 188 images of lesions across four apps.

Lesions were given a positive, negative or ‘unevaluable’ reading, with 60 of the images showing lesions with melanoma and 128 benign.

Researchers found the highest sensitivity for diagnosing melanoma was an app which sends the photo to a certified dermatologist to analyse.

The lowest sensitivity app was one which used an algorithm to analyse photos.

“Physicians must be aware of these applications because the use of medical applications seems to be increasing over time,” the authors said in a statement.

The authors also warned delaying medical advice for melanomas can harm users.

“These applications are not subject to any sort of validation or regulatory oversight. Despite disclaimers that these applications are intended for educational purposes, they have the potential to harm users who may believe mistakenly that the evaluation given by such an application is a substitute for medical advice,” they said in the Online First paper.

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