Google Research

Development and Assessment of an Artificial Intelligence–Based Tool for Skin Condition Diagnosis by Primary Care Physicians and Nurse Practitioners in Teledermatology Practices

JAMA Network Open (2021)


Importance: Most dermatologic cases are initially evaluated by nondermatologists such as primary care physicians (PCPs) or nurse practitioners (NPs).

Objective: To evaluate an artificial intelligence (AI)–based tool that assists with diagnoses of dermatologic conditions.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This multiple-reader, multiple-case diagnostic study developed an AI-based tool and evaluated its utility. Primary care physicians and NPs retrospectively reviewed an enriched set of cases representing 120 different skin conditions. Randomization was used to ensure each clinician reviewed each case either with or without AI assistance; each clinician alternated between batches of 50 cases in each modality. The reviews occurred from February 21 to April 28, 2020. Data were analyzed from May 26, 2020, to January 27, 2021.

Exposures: An AI-based assistive tool for interpreting clinical images and associated medical history.

Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary analysis evaluated agreement with reference diagnoses provided by a panel of 3 dermatologists for PCPs and NPs. Secondary analyses included diagnostic accuracy for biopsy-confirmed cases, biopsy and referral rates, review time, and diagnostic confidence.

Results: Forty board-certified clinicians, including 20 PCPs (14 women [70.0%]; mean experience, 11.3 [range, 2-32] years) and 20 NPs (18 women [90.0%]; mean experience, 13.1 [range, 2-34] years) reviewed 1048 retrospective cases (672 female [64.2%]; median age, 43 [interquartile range, 30-56] years; 41 920 total reviews) from a teledermatology practice serving 11 sites and provided 0 to 5 differential diagnoses per case (mean [SD], 1.6 [0.7]). The PCPs were located across 12 states, and the NPs practiced in primary care without physician supervision across 9 states. The NPs had a mean of 13.1 (range, 2-34) years of experience and practiced in primary care without physician supervision across 9 states. Artificial intelligence assistance was significantly associated with higher agreement with reference diagnoses. For PCPs, the increase in diagnostic agreement was 10% (95% CI, 8%-11%; P < .001), from 48% to 58%; for NPs, the increase was 12% (95% CI, 10%-14%; P < .001), from 46% to 58%. In secondary analyses, agreement with biopsy-obtained diagnosis categories of maglignant, precancerous, or benign increased by 3% (95% CI, −1% to 7%) for PCPs and by 8% (95% CI, 3%-13%) for NPs. Rates of desire for biopsies decreased by 1% (95% CI, 0-3%) for PCPs and 2% (95% CI, 1%-3%) for NPs; the rate of desire for referrals decreased by 3% (95% CI, 1%-4%) for PCPs and NPs. Diagnostic agreement on cases not indicated for a dermatologist referral increased by 10% (95% CI, 8%-12%) for PCPs and 12% (95% CI, 10%-14%) for NPs, and median review time increased slightly by 5 (95% CI, 0-8) seconds for PCPs and 7 (95% CI, 5-10) seconds for NPs per case.

Conclusions and Relevance: Artificial intelligence assistance was associated with improved diagnoses by PCPs and NPs for 1 in every 8 to 10 cases, indicating potential for improving the quality of dermatologic care.

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