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Dermatology Apps Are Widely Available Yet Carry Risk

There are a growing number of resources for dermatology care made available through smartphone and tablet based applications. This means that patients can receive information, diagnosis, and health management with the click of a button or the touch of a screen. But as PAs it’s important to educate your patients that not all are valuable or accurate. A recent study examined the number, type, and price of dermatology applications on the most commonly used smartphone and tablet carriers: Apple, Android, Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows.

The study took place on July 12 and 13, 2013. A query was conducted by searching for dermatology terms on the application’s store websites. Key search terms used were dermatology, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, skin cancer, melanoma, and eczema. Application and consumer reviews were recorded, categorized, and target audiences were determined. 

Researchers found 229 dermatology related apps. The highest percentage of applications referenced general dermatology information (41%). Almost 18% of applications offered self-diagnosis tools for everything from rash to skin cancer. The most reviewed app was an Ultraviolet index providing sun protection recommendations based on GPS location. Over 50% of the dermatology applications were offered free of charge, with the average price of an app being $2.99. Additionally,the American Academy of Dermatology had recently introduced an app for helping physicians identify which skin cancers to treat with Mohs surgery. 

Mobile apps are cost-effective, easily accessible, and offer a wealth of educational resources. However, not all apps are created equal. One application diagnosed malignant melanomas as “medium risk” and advised the patient to monitor it rather than going to a dermatologist. Most web health care applications are unregulated: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that they will not regulate most mobile health apps.

While patients should know that these apps are available, they should still be in communication and have in-person visits with their dermatologists. Remind your patients that these applications should not replace doctor-patient care, and should be used as one resource rather than a definitive answer.  

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Image: wajakemek | rashdanothman

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