Malignant melanoma, for example, the most dangerous type of skin cancer globally, has a five-year survival rate of about 90% if caught early, and most adult patients can be considered cured after this period of time. But, while people’s ability to recognise suspicious skin lesions early is key, all too often detection is hindered by lack of awareness of what warning signs to look for.

All this is about to change. Personalised digital solutions are becoming available that can facilitate the recognition of potentially cancerous skin growths and, consequently, reduce time to diagnosis. One such solution is a smartphone application by SkinVision, which enables users to take photos of moles and other skin lesions and, through a mathematical algorithm, identify which need medical attention. The photos can be stored, compared over time, and shared online with a GP or dermatologist.

Benefits for patients and doctors

“Skin health apps are not diagnostic tools, and don’t aim to replace medical advice. The real advantage lies in using the information they provide in combination with the expertise of the healthcare professional,” explains SkinVision’s CEO, Dick Uyttewaal. “This reduces unnecessary visits to the doctor and, most importantly, helps users with, or at risk of, suspicious skin lesions seek specialist medical attention sooner. Currently, one per cent of the UK population is followed by a dermatologist, even though the proportion of people at high risk for skin cancer is five times higher.”

Potential for cost savings

Importantly, by aiding the early detection of skin cancer, mobile digital health solutions could help health systems realize annual savings of up to £140 million. This money could be used to improve and expand patient services, and would help ease the financial pressure on the NHS. A report released in May by health regulator Monitor showed that NHS trusts’ deficit for the year 2014-15 was £822 million, compared with £115 million in the previous year.

Giving people control

Stephen Seuntjens, a partner at Personal Health Solutions, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, says: “Health awareness technology places the individual in control, and at the centre of the health system. In doing so, it enables the transition from reactive to proactive care, where much of the focus is on wellness, quality of life and prevention, not just on treatment. People can thus more easily recognise abnormal skin changes, access treatment earlier and, as a result, improve considerably their chances of a good quality, longer life.