Doctor in Your Pocket: Apps Bring Health Closer

SpotCheck App Enables You to Screen Moles From Your Smart Phone

The advances human beings have made in technology are astounding: we put a man on the moon and made advanced communications technology affordable to nearly everyone on the planet.

While a lot of technology is devoted to things like funny pictures of cats and enabling us to lob animated birds at animated pigs, the capabilities of the technology in your average smart phone surpasses what most computers could do only decades ago.

Apple, Android, and other mobile platforms changed the way humans use their phones when they allowed developers to create their own applications. This year, Apple announced more than 15 billion apps have been downloaded from the Mac App Store, which listed over 500,000 applications for the iPhone and iPad in May.  

In the medical field, there are numerous apps to help people manage their health, from RxmindMe Prescription, which reminds a user when it is time to take medication, to Frweed Pro, which helps medical marijuana patients find the right strand of cannabis for his or her condition. 

While many apps help people track their conditions, provide encyclopedic information on conditions and treatments, or give health pointers, other applications allow patients to actually communicate directly with a health professional, potentially getting over many of the hurdles that keep people from a doctor’s office.  

In February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Mobile MIM, an application for the iPhone and iPad which allows doctors to view images from routine screenings, such as MRIs, CT scans, and more. While there’s not yet an application that lets you scan your body to see if your leg is in fact broken, this technology can allow for doctors out of the office to view scans from the hospital—potentially speeding along diagnosis and treatment.

Screenshot from the SpotCheck App Screenshot from the SpotCheck App

However, for things more visible on the surface, such as questionable moles on the skin, there’s always SpotCheck, an iPhone app developed by Dr. Bobby Buka, a sought-after NYC celebrity dermatologist.

The free-to-download app allows users to upload photos of a questionable mole for $4.99 and receive a diagnosis from a doctor. Since its launch in October, SpotCheck has been well-received in New York and New Jersey. The California launch arrives this month. Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Florida are next.

Dr. Buka says SpotCheck is one ways to fight melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer where early detection greatly increases a person’s chance of survival. Buka lays out the grim facts: “With stage one melanoma, the survival rate is 96 percent. By stage two of the cancer, survival rate drops to 66 percent.” Still not concerned? Here’s where Buka elaborates, “That’s the difference of a millimeter between the two stages. And it can happen within a month.” 

Hopefully, a shift will begin to emerge toward skin cancer awareness and detection, and Buka plans to address this call to action with SpotCheck, the free iPhone app he developed and recently launched. According to Buka, diagnosing moles via uploaded images was a long time coming. “Dermatology is so visual,” Buka says. “But the technology basically had to catch up.” 

Now, however, thanks to higher resolution, tools like SpotCheck can make it that much easier for people to get checked out early. And what about the litany of excuses? The what-ifs? 

“What if I have to wait too long in the doctor’s office? What if my co-pay’s too high? What if I’m just scared and I don’t want to get checked?” Buka rattles off the common fears that hold many people back from seeking immediate care. “SpotCheck will, at the least reassure them. Even if someone’s not sure, SpotCheck will hopefully decrease barriers and offer peace of mind,” he says. Before SpotCheck, Buka had taken camera photos of 200 patients, 196 of which were correctly diagnosed. Of the group, there were four patients whom Buka had suggested to seek a biopsy, which actually ended up being normal cases. But better to be safe than sorry, right?

But what about the less tech-savvy individuals or those with indifferent attitudes towards the emerging technology? Could diagnostic apps be excluding a certain group of the population? Buka accounts for that possibility by offering a PC version of SpotCheck. But, even so, he feels that with the rising interest of pop culture, and the prevalence of technology in our everyday lives, “there are fewer and fewer un-savvy users.”

Buka sees the work being done through SpotCheck for melanoma expanding to include other conditions, such as acne and eczema.

“What we’re doing with SpotCheck,” says Buka, “is starting a discussion.” Many patients may cling to their fears or excuses (I don’t want to know if it’s bad, My insurance may not cover costs…) and Buka sees SpotCheck as “getting the conversation started.” It may be nothing, or it may indeed be something worth checking out. In that case, he says, “SpotCheck is like your wake up call.”

“For the price of a cup of coffee, you can send me a picture and we’ll get you the care you need.” 

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