One of the growth areas in smartphone and tablet apps over the last year or so has been in apps dedicated to health issues. Many of these perform very useful services, such as BMI calculators or exercise trackers.
There are now a number of apps dedicated to looking at skin moles which are designed to assess a mole on the basis of a photograph. The appeal for patients is that this offers a very fast and convenient screening which can be carried out in the privacy of their own home with minimum hassle. What’s more, the release of these apps has been very helpful in gaining media coverage, further raising awareness of the importance of regular mole checks.
However, concerns have been raised about the accuracy of diagnosis; the danger of which is that a false diagnosis could lull clients into a false sense of security – or cause undue concern.
Fundamentally, common sense says that a smartphone app cannot replace a face to face consultation. During a consultation, doctors and surgeons don’t only examine the mole, but also discuss with the patient any concerns they might have. Things like the rate of growth, any changes, discharge or even ‘having a hunch that it’s odd’ are important but are not included in the app-based assessments. The dialogue is an important part of the process.
The issue is that if a patient has a suspicious mole which an app assesses as OK or low risk, they might not seek further attention. If a mole is abnormal, it is very important to see a GP or a doctor specialising in mole diagnosis as soon as possible. If caught early, there are excellent outcomes, but skin cancer can be virulent if left untreated. While it can be a useful indicator in some cases, the implications of misdiagnosis are potentially life-threatening. This means that it is simply too important to rely on a smartphone and any concerns should be dealt with as soon as possible, even if it’s just to put the mind at rest.
At my clinic, we appreciate that taking time out for mole checks can seem like an unnecessary hassle. Many patients have lumps or bumps that they’re not sure of and welcome an expert opinion. We offer a service whereby patients can email a photo of their skin blemish for our doctors to provide some advice. Sometimes we can clearly see whether the lesion is a mole, skin tag, wart or cyst, other times we might need some further information. This opens up an important dialogue with patients, enabling them to have an understanding of what’s likely to be involved.
If we have any concerns about the mole, we will advise them to seek medical attention immediately. However, the vast majority of skin blemishes do turn out to be harmless and can then be removed if required for cosmetic reasons.
Having a skilled doctor or surgeon view a photo of a mole is arguably better than an automated app, although we would still advise that this is no replacement for a full face to face consultation in person.
It is important to trust your instinct and our advice is always ‘if in doubt, check it out’. Any mole causing concern should be seen by a professional as soon as possible. If your doctor has any concerns, they will refer patients very quickly to a specialist for proper assessment and removal if necessary.
Choose a doctor who is trained in mole removal and can offer a choice of popular laser mole removal with minimal scarring - shave excision with no stitches required or mole removal surgery by ellipse excision for the largest lesions. Any moles that are deemed to be suspicious can be removed quickly – usually at the same appointment – and full testing should be included to rule out any issues for full peace of mind. As well as standard skin lesion consultations, my clinic also offers a full body mole check service, carried out by trained and experienced private mole removal doctors.