Think you might have downloaded a virus IRL? The STD Triage app will connect you with a professional who might be able to offer advice about suspicious-seeming skin conditions in embarrassing places.
The new iOS app and accompanying web service is available in Swedish, Spanish, and English and allows users to send images anonymously and receive an opinion from a licensed dermatologist within 24 hours and often in less than four. It’s free to submit an image and a query, but reading the doctor’s response costs $9.99 (whatever money these people are getting really isn't enough, though, right?). Along with the doctor’s assessment, the app shows nearby drugstores, doctors, and clinics where users can go for follow-up care.
No, unlike smartphone-enabled STD tests that could take years to become a reality, the app does not promise an official diagnosis, but that’s part of the point, says founder and CEO Alexander Börve, a Swedish orthopedic surgeon and a visiting PhD student at UC Berkeley studying telemedicine, a growing area of interest in the ways technology can help deliver health care virtually or at a distance.
"We’re not actually trying to substitute the dermatologist, we’re trying to screen," he tells Fast Company.
Services such as DirectDermatology, DermLink.md, and NoviMedicine.com offer medical diagnoses and prescriptions for fees that are higher (at DirectDermatology, for example, it's $85). Instead, with his app, Börve aims to offer a low-cost screening tool that will help people assess the urgency of their health problems and connect them to local drugstores, doctors, and testing clinics for solutions and professional care.
Nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted disease infections occur every year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those millions, Börve hopes some will use his app and end up seeking treatment for embarrassing problems they might have otherwise ignored and, armed with the knowledge about their condition, engage in safer sex.
Giving people information that sends them to drugstores and doctors’ offices is also part of his company’s burgeoning business model, which Börve admits he’s still toying with while adding new doctors in cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Miami to join his current team of 14, all of whom are located in Europe.
The app is a spin-off of iDoc24, an online and mobile health service Börve created in 2009 with the idea of targeting young mothers concerned about their kids’ rashes and skin-conscious women worried about cancer and sun exposure. But soon, something unexpected started happened: People began submitting questions about their genitals and sexually transmitted diseases. Ultimately, over a third of the site’s queries are related to STDs.
"I put two and two together, that there is a really big market out there," says Börve.
While a mild skin condition may yield a response recommending treatment using an over-the-counter remedy available at a local drugstore and follow-up with a doctor if the problem persists, the app’s partner doctors advise users to visit a medical professional or testing clinic when a more serious condition or sexually transmitted disease is possible or likely based on the images and information users send in.
The app is only effective for assessing sexually transmitted diseases and unpleasant non-disease skin conditions with distinct visual symptoms. But luckily for Börve, there are plenty of those, including syphilis, Herpes simplex, Human Papilloma Virus, psoriasis, and hemorrhoids.
"We’re not trying to do something extraordinary, it’s very simple, you take a picture and you have a dermatological opinion," he says.
So what of all those pictures? Since they are submitted anonymously through the app without any identifying data from the user, Börve says people need not worry about their most private concerns becoming exposed, though the company does keep the images on hand "for research and to improve our services."
"I’ve had jokes like, ‘You should sell those pictures to porn sites.’ But they are not very stimulating," he says wryly.
No need for a second opinion on that.
[Banana Image: TijanaM via Shutterstock]