But in a test using photographs of benign and cancerous skin
conditions, the top 10 matches returned were often not the same
disease at all.
“As expected, the Google reverse search engine does a great job of
recognizing objects such as houses, refrigerators, animals,” study
coauthor Dr. Kavita Y. Sarin told Reuters Health by email. “When it
comes to skin lesions, the accuracy drops significantly,” said Sarin,
of the dermatology department at Stanford University School of
Medicine in Redwood City, California.
“Physicians undergo many years of training to diagnose many of these
skin conditions and, when unsure, rely on additional tools such as
dermoscopy and biopsy,” she said. “It is important for users to be
aware of the limitations of relying on search engine alone for
At Google Images (images.google.com), users can upload an image, or
link to an image, and search for matching images, instead of using
text search terms.
The researchers used the tool on 100 photographs of the 10 most
common benign or malignant skin conditions from a database of U.S.
Navy Medical Center images takes by board-certified dermatologists.
These included pictures of cancers like melanoma and squamous cell
carcinoma, and benign lesions like hemangioma and nevus spilus.
They measured the accuracy of the search by how many of the top 10
unfiltered image results displayed the same condition, which would
represent a “correct diagnosis.”
Up to 30 percent of the time, there were no correct results in the
top 10 images for skin cancer searches, and the error rate ranged
from 30 to 100 percent for benign conditions, according to the
report in JAMA Dermatology.
Adding the word “skin” as a text cue helped the image search tool
perform better, and the error rate was smaller for malignant
conditions like skin cancers, the researchers note.
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People who use image search for diagnosis risk having a misdiagnosis
and feeling inappropriately reassured, so they might not seek care,
Sarin said. People should rely on their doctors for an accurate
“Patients will inevitably adopt new technologies to help understand
their condition and answer health concerns,” Sarin said. “These
technologies can equip patients with information and be learning
tools but patients should understand that these technologies still
are not very accurate and they should still consult their physician
if they are concerned.”
For now, she recommends patients only use the Google image search
tool for information or exploration but not to diagnose skin
Google declined to comment on the study.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/29CnhWS JAMA Dermatology, online June 29,
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