With over 80 million iPhone users nationwide, the ubiquity of the devices has moved beyond the realm of popular and well into the area of culturally iconic. Rochester’s own VisualDX has seized that cultural status to create a tool for good: an iOS app that can help to diagnose skin conditions starting from a simple photo.
VisualDX CEO Art Papier M.D. explained just how the software works, and its medical potential.
“This is huge, because with this new iOS 11 release, Apple has launched something called ‘Core ML,’ ML for machine learning,” Papier said. “What they’ve done is put on the phone the ability to move your machine learning algorithm right onto the phone.”
That ability to put the software directly onto the phone opens up a massive door to ensuring privacy in the use of VisualDX’s technology, already used in 1,700 hospitals, clinics and medical schools around the world. Previously, the photos taken had to be sent from the patient or doctor to a third-party cloud service, which, Papier said, raised concerns about confidentiality.
This confidentiality gives better quality guarantees for software which could potentially serve an enormous medical benefit. Essentially, VisualDX’s technology, by using machine learning, can help narrow down the possible ailment a patient is suffering from.
“We’re not training it to detect poison ivy; the software will tell you it’s blisters, it’s red streaks, it’s ulcers, it’s different kinds of lesions, and that gets put through the app and gets you to different types of diagnostics,” Papier said.
VisualDX is not intended to be a replacement for a doctor, but rather, as Papier says, “help them do their job better.” And that need, especially in regard to skin conditions, is incredibly evident. According to a 2010 study by the Dermatology Online Journal, a mean accuracy rate of non-dermatologist preliminary diagnoses was only 23.9 percent. According to VisualDX, over 65 percent of patients with a skin conditions see a non-dermatologist first.
“There’s two ways to think about it, the phone as an instrument for the patient, and the phone as an instrument for the doctor,” Papier said. “You develop symptoms at home, the phone can guide you, Siri or text can help give you guidance of where to go, what to do.”
While serving a benefit in the medical field, Papier, as well as Marketing Manager Kim Montinarello, emphasized the desire to also support the Rochester community as a whole, with much of their engineering and software staff coming from RIT, UR and MCC.
“It’s all about stopping the brain drain, the RIT graduates heading off to California because that’s where the good jobs are,” Montinarello said. “So to give them a really good career in software development locally is important, and important to us as a company.”
Papier, emphasizing the new nature of VisualDX, echoed this sentiment.
“We’re spearheading the beginning of a medical information, imaging center here,” Papier said. “And really, there’s no better place in the country to do this than Rochester. Bringing imaging and medicine together to make apps—we really think it’s going to be transformative.”