Google launches AI health tool that can help patients identify skin conditions

Google is making a historic move into healthcare, launching an AI-powered tool, the first of its kind, that will assist consumers in self-diagnosing hundreds of skin conditions.

A trial of the "dermatology assist tool", unveiled at their annual developer conference, Google IO, should launch later this year, it said.

Derm Assist will launch in Europe this year before it is introduced to nearly 2bn people globally suffering from skin conditions ranging from acne to melanoma.

The AI can recognise 288 skin conditions but is not designed to be a substitute for medical diagnosis and treatment, the firm said.

"The tool is not intended to provide a diagnosis . . . rather we hope it gives you access to authoritative information so you can make a more informed decision about your next step,” Google said.

Professor Tim Underwood, head of cancer sciences at the University of Southampton, said such tools had the potential to provide more tailored treatments to patients.

"The application of AI, both in cancer and in other areas of medicine, informs the conversation around what the diagnosis might be and what treatment to offer to an individual," he said.

The launch follows three years of development at the company, which has long viewed a gap in the healthcare market for advanced artificial intelligence.

As well as using images, the app also requires patients to answer a series of questions online.

It is based on previous tools developed by Google for learning to spot the symptoms of certain cancers and tuberculosis.

Currently none of these tools is approved as an alternative to human diagnosis.

Google says there are some 10 billion searches for skin, hair and nail issues on its search engine every year.

The Derm Assist system is based on a machine-learning algorithm trained on more than 16,000 real-world dermatology cases.

Some of the information provided to users is reviewed by human dermatologists. If a user mentions any alarming symptoms, such as being unable to breathe, additional alerts advise that they see a doctor immediately.

Derma Assist has not yet been given clearance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the US, but a similar machine-learning model built by British firm Optellum was recently approved by the FDA for use as an assistant in the diagnosis of lung cancer.