Devices & Diagnostics

Mobile health tourney: Ultrasound imaging systems tips off against melanoma assessment app

A medical app that’s designed to make use of the high availability of smartphones in developing countries by converting them into ultrasound tools is pitted against a controversial app to help users assess the risk of whether a patch of discolored skin could pose a cancer risk.

The NCAA College Basketball tournament may be must-see TV but here mobile health apps and devices are in the throes of competition and the stakes are high. Adherence, remote monitoring, engagement, improved outcomes, reduced healthcare costs. So begins our mini tournament of mobile health apps.

MobiUS SP1 System by MobiSante, ultrasound imaging system (FDA cleared) vs. DoctorMole app by Mark Shippen 

This was a tougher decision than I anticipated. The MobiUS  SP1 System offers eight different ultrasound imaging exams such as pelvis, kidney, and obstetrics using an ultrasound probe and displaying video and images through a camera on the phone. Images can be easily and securely shared for archival, second opinion, or remote diagnosis. One of the strengths of the device is that it can help clinics and medical professionals in areas thin on resources, be they in the US or in developing countries, to help to make healthcare more accessible. Trained emergency responders could use the app in the field to speed up diagnosis. Physicians could use it to look for gall bladder, kidney stones and aneurysms as part of a physical exams on patients

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I have some reservations about melanoma detector DoctorMole not taking the regulatory route. It points out that it is not a diagnostic tool but goes ahead and offers a diagnosis of sorts. On the other hand , I think it provides a useful service to raise awareness about an aggressive form of skin cancer. It is the third most common form of skin cancer with an estimated 76, 690 cases expected to be diagnosed this year along with 9,480 deaths. The device guides users to take a picture of the discolored skin in question and offers a risk assessment scale based on asymmetry, border irregularity and color, providing an analysis of each. It lets users store pictures to compare which could be helpful the next time they decide to see a physician and can show how if it at all the patch of skin has changed. The best caught 98% of melanomas. Helpfully, a couple of researchers from University of Pittsburgh compared the effectiveness of four melanoma detection apps and wrote up their conclusions in JAMA. Without naming names, it revealed that one app had a 98 percent accuracy rate, two had 70 percent accuracy each and one could  not even muster 10 percent. So technology is improving all the time but it’s nowhere near ready to go it alone without an in person confirmation.

It will either scare users into reducing their exposure to the sun or prompt them to consult with a physician. On the other hand, it could make them complacent, especially of they think using the app is just as good as a physical exam. to prove the effectiveness of a tool designed to assess whether a mole is nothing to worry about or is a potential melanoma, I think it provides a really useful service to make people more aware of skin cancer. Hopefully it will make them more sensitive to the issue and vigilant about the appearance of unusual skin colorings and spots.

Winner: MobiSante

Why? The usefulness and range of the ultrasound tool would make it a must have tool