Google tool to identify skin conditions aims to combat frequent misdiagnosis by users

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Just as users can snap photos on an app to classify their house plants, Google is launching an AI tool that can classify skin conditions, according to a May 18 press conference.

Google researchers began developing the tool because there were 10 billion searches each year where users were attempting to identify their skin conditions. What they found was that even though users were spending hours researching, only 13 percent of users identified the skin condition correctly. In addition to low numbers in proper identification, about 75 percent of users who needed professional help did not know they needed it.

Eight details about the AI tool:

  1. The tool took three years to launch because of variables in the way 288 skin conditions present themselves on 45 different body parts, with different skin colors and six different skin types.

  2. The tool prioritizes the safety of users' data. Any information obtained will not be sold to advertisers, and users have the option of deleting the data, saving it or donating it to Google researchers to improve diagnosis accuracy.

  3. Users will take three photos of the skin condition. The tool will match users with possible conditions, as well as share information about the severity of the illness. Dermatologists wrote much of the content and expressed what aspects they think patients need to know, Peggy Bui, MD, Google's technical program manager, said.

  4. Primary care physicians are already using Google search to research skin conditions they are unfamiliar with for patients who have limited access to a dermatologist. A study launched by Google found that when assisted with AI, physicians diagnosed skin conditions more accurately, Dr. Bui said.

  5. Aside from writing a lot of the advice for the AI tool, multiple dermatologists labeled images because it leads to the most accurate results.

  6. Although the Google team believes the tool can be an asset to primary care providers, they are only doing exploratory research at this time using retrospective cases, Dr. Bui told Becker's. In a study, researchers found there is potential for augmenting decision-making for medical providers and improving diagnoses. Before this can become available to medical providers, Google will have to work with its clinical team and regulators to see how to make that happen.

  7. The tool is seeking FDA guidance, but it is relatively new in the artificial intelligence sector. The tool would be considered the "first of its kind," so there is not a clear path to FDA approval.

  8. The tool will be launched worldwide and will be the first tool that was not initially launched solely in the U.S. This tool is Google's first consumer-facing medical device, but there will be more devices to come as Google affirms its commitment to "improving health for everyone," Dr. Bui said.

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