Company intends to use pattern recognition software to evaluate risk of skin cancer
A “do it yourself” dermatopathology service for consumers is coming soon, according to Health Discovery Corporation (HDC) of Savannah, Georgia. The company is preparing to introduce a cell phone-based tool to help consumers recognize whether a mole or other skin lesion needs examination by a dermatologist.
Using their cell phone cameras, consumers would click a photo of the skin lesion, then forward that image to a computer at HDC. Using pattern recognition algorithms developed by the company, called Support Vector Machines, the computer would analyze the image. A report telling the consumer whether the lesion was low, medium or high risk for skin cancer would be sent as a text message. This text message would include a list of dermatologists located near the consumer. The list of dermatologist referrals would be targeted to the user’s geographic area. HPC would compile this list, based on GPS data collected from the cell phone transmission.
Tom Gallagher, HDC’s Executive Vice President for Intellectual Property Strategies, says HPC would generate revenue from two sources. First, consumers would pay a fee for the evaluation of their mole or skin lesion. Second, healthcare providers would pay a fee to be listed in the referral network.
Recognizing the role of the pathologist in evaluating tissue, HDC is in discussion with pathology laboratories that have networks of client dermatologists. HDC wants to add these pathology laboratories and their dermatologist networks to the HDC database.
“We’re not trying to replace dermatologists. We’re creating a tool to help consumers with their decisions about whether a lesion needs to be examined,” observed Gallagher. Often, he said, people are reluctant to get a lesion examined. Because there are long wait times for a dermatology appointment in many areas of the country, people often become discouraged and forego having a dermatologist check a suspicious skin lesion. With this tool, noted Gallagher, consumers can get a quick assessment of risk.
He envisions family members using this cell phone tool and service to evaluate a loved one’s lesion. Upon getting the risk assessment, they would use it to help get the family member to a dermatologist if needed. “I can imagine a young adult who is savvy about cell phone apps using it to encourage their mom or dad to get checked,” said Gallagher.
HDC’s algorithms use the standard ABCD criteria for evaluating risk: asymmetry, border, color and diameter.
Gallagher said that testing of the product is ongoing. No results have been published, but internal reports indicate a high level of accuracy. He added that the company expects to have a beta version of the product ready for use by consumers sometime in the next six months.
HDC describes itself as a pattern recognition company. Its patented mathematical techniques can analyze large amounts of data to uncover patterns that might otherwise be undetectable. The company operates primarily in molecular diagnostics. It recently announced the licensing of a four-gene test for prostate cancer it had developed.
Both pathologists and dermatopathologists should take note of this pending new consumer-oriented “tissue evaluation service.” First, it shows how companies believe they can make money by directly serving consumers with a diagnostic service like this skin lesion evaluation capability. Second, it demonstrates a way that common consumer devices, like cell phones, can be adapted to medical uses.
This proposed new skin lesion evaluation service is a reminder that traditional relationships between consumers and physicians can be disrupted when new technologies are offered in unorthodox ways. If lots of consumers respond to HPC’s diagnostic service, it would make HPC an important source of case referrals for both dermatologists and dermatopathologists. –K. Branz