When a person develops an unsightly skin condition, the first person to assess it is typically not a dermatologist. A lack of expertise in dermatology too often leads to misdiagnoses. General practice physicians, for example, get very little training on skin conditions. Now, thanks to a new feature inside the latest Apple iOS for iPhones and iPads, any physician can have access to an impressive image recognition platform that identifies skin conditions and recommends further actions. We spoke with Dr. Art Papier, CEO of VisualDx, about the VisualDx + Derm Expert app that the company is making available.
The new app is certainly not a dermatologist, but it relies on pretty impressive deep learning and vision algorithms to guide the physician closer to a diagnosis or a referral. Using the VisualDx + Derm Expert app, a clinician can simply take a photo of the area of the skin exhibiting something unusual, add additional related info about the patient including drugs taken and places recently traveled, and receive suggestions pointing to what the issue may be. The resulting differential diagnoses are also linked to more information about the diseases that may be causing the given condition.
The app works because it was taught what it knows using thousands of dermatology images that VisualDx, the company, collected for more than 20 years. Of note, this may be the world’s largest dermatology image archive. This new capability the company has been quietly holding onto, though, because of a legal issue that was just resolved thanks to a bit of technology inside the new iOS. Specifically, because the image has to be run against a pretty intensive and power hungry algorithm, it had to be sent over the internet to the cloud for processing. This effectively broke HIPAA rules, since patient data would have to be passed to a third party outside the clinical practice. Now, thanks to a feature called Core ML that’s rolling out in iOS 11, patient data stays local and is processed on the iPhone or iPad itself. Core ML is a way for app designers to integrate machine learning models into their products, forcing the processing to take place inside the device itself and not passing sensitive information to the outside world.
VisualDx + Derm Expert has just been made available on the Apple App Store, but to really work you’ll have to pay for a subscription. While it’s mostly intended for specialists outside of dermatology, it may still help dermatologists with unusual and rare cases. For example, it’s known that allopurinol, used to prevent gout, kidney stones, and other conditions, can lead to a rather large number of other conditions, each of which is nearly impossible to memorize. The VisualDx + Derm Expert app can help a dermatologist to remember such associations, potentially leading to a quicker and more assured diagnosis. To be clear, the app itself is a clinical reference and not a diagnostic tool, and so does not require FDA regulatory approval.
While the app is made for professionals, VisualDx is currently working on an app designed specifically for consumers. In our conversation with Dr. Papier, he said that the new consumer facing app will help lay folks to make more informed triage decisions about what to do about a rash, welt, or other skin problem.
Product page: VisualDx + DermExpert…