Big Data

How an analytics app is changing the lives of acne patients

Approximately 500 million people suffer from acne, though only a very small percentage of sufferers see a dermatologist for advice. Find out how an analytics app is democratizing acne treatment.

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Image: iStock/gpointstudio

Acne is a disease that affects the skin's oil glands. The oil carries dead skin cells to the surface of the skin, and the end result is lesions and pimples on the skin's surface. This disease can cause debilitating physical and emotional effects. In the US, nearly 60 million people have an active acne condition; 20 million people have the disorder severe enough for it to cause permanent scars. Over $3 billion annually is spent in the US on treating acne.

There are many prescriptive, operative, over-the-counter, and homeopathic treatments available for acne, but they don't work for everyone. Also, depending on the individual's insurance plan and the severity of the acne, health insurance may or may not cover the treatment.

The confusion over acne treatment options, coupled with problems in insurance coverage, are driving more people to search online for acne remedies. Unfortunately, not all of these treatment recommendations are effective. This is where mobile apps backed by dermatology expertise can make a difference.

SEE: How big data is having a 'mind-blowing' impact on medicine (TechRepublic)

One of these dermatology-based mobile apps is MDacne. The app enables acne sufferers to help themselves, while ensuring they are getting expert dermatology advice.

"I have been a practicing dermatologist for 25 years," said Dr. Yoram Harth, MDacne's innovator. "There are 500 million people in the world who are suffering from acne, and only ten percent of them get to see a dermatologist. Without treatment, they risk permanent scars that can physically and emotionally affect them for life."

Dr. Harth's idea was to create a mobile analytics application that acne sufferers could use to self-advise themselves on their acne conditions. This is how it works.

By using the free MDacne mobile app, the user takes a selfie and answers a questionnaire. An algorithm then compares the user's skin type against a database of skin types by using computer vision, which is a method for acquiring, processing, analyzing, and understanding images and general, high-dimensional, real-world data in order to produce numerical or symbolic information in the form of decisions. MDacne returns a customized acne treatment plan that is based on the user's skin type. (Note: Subscription options that include more features and additional options are available.)

"For the 80 percent of mild acne sufferers, this enables them to get effective treatment that is available over the counter and that they can self administer," said Dr. Harth. "It also avails to them on-hand dermatology expertise that otherwise might not be available to them."

So, how does the algorithm behind the mobile application work?

"The algorithm does a couple of things," said Dr. Harth. "It uses space detection and also facial feature detection, and it also determines the lesions, noting lesion colors, sizes, and shapes. Initially we iterated this over a database containing over one thousand patients for purposes of analytics comparisons between what the app was generating and what practicing dermatologists would find. We refined the process until it reached a point of extremely high correlation between the analytics and the diagnosis and treatment plan that a practicing dermatologist would give. Once we arrived at this high threshold of accuracy, we were ready to begin distributing the app to users."

MDacne began distribution of the app at the beginning of 2016; it now has over 30,000 users worldwide.

"Our retention results from these users have been very strong," said Dr. Harth. "Users say that their acne is improving based upon the treatments that the app prescribes for them, and they tell us that the app is fun to use. Most importantly, we are self-enabling people who formerly would not have sought the help of a professional to treat the condition."

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About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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