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Skin diagnoses from 'selfie' pics often match in-person doctor visits

Sending a cellphone selfie of a suspicious mole or rash may lead to the same diagnosis as an in-person doctor visit.
February 7, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
You've heard of self-diagnosis, but what about a "selfie-diagnosis?" Taking a "selfie" might help you get lifesaving advice.

Those popular cellphone self-portraits are fun. But when it comes to skin cancer or a painful rash, a new report finds selfies might actually be a healthy trend.

A picture can tell your doctor more than words when you're trying to describe something on your skin. Answers can be just a text or email away.

Dermatologist Dr. Cary Feibleman says while he sees most of his patients in the office, he does get one or two picture inquiries a week.

"The thing about dermatology is you either know it immediately or you don't," said Feibleman.

A new study finds sending a cellphone selfie of a suspicious mole or rash on your skin may lead to just about the same diagnosis as an in-person visit. A JAMA Dermatology study looked at suspicious skin complaints of 50 hospitalized patients twice: once in an actual visit and again by taking a picture and sending it to another dermatologist. The diagnoses agreed 90 percent of the time.

Dr. Feibleman says technology probably has a lot to do with that.

"The new cellphones are so fantastic, you get a really, really good image that looks like somebody could put in a textbook," Feibleman said.

Selfies aren't just good for sending an instant picture. Having a record of how you've looked over the months can help you track a suspicious lesion on your face, which can be helpful to doctors.

"Particularly if we've seen them before and compare it to what our memory is or what we've written in their chart about how they looked before, it's helpful," said Feibleman.

But Dr. Feibleman says there's a lot you can't tell from a photo, like texture or depth. So he often has patients come in, even though for many discussing a picture offers peace of mind.

Dr. Feibleman adds that sending selfies can be useful in areas where people have to drive hours to get to a doctor.

In the study, when patients needed a biopsy, doctors agreed that was the correct advice 95 percent of the time.

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