Google’s latest healthcare endeavor capitalizes on the growth in adoption of self-triage capabilities over the last year while playing to its strengths: scalable AI and data management. Consumers have long sought more information about their symptoms, most frequently turning to WebMD or their favorite search engine. In 2020, 52% of consumers reported using WebMD, while 27% read “whatever shows up in the search results,” when asked where they like to search online for information about health conditions or symptoms. Additionally, when asked what device they prefer to use when looking up health symptoms, 41% of individuals say they prefer to use a smartphone. Consumers want a digital tool that is easy, affordable, and accessible, but they also need a solution that is vetted and accurate as shown by the interest in a tool like WebMD.

Enter Google’s New AI-Powered Dermatology Tool For Consumers

At Google’s recent I/O event, Google announced its new AI-powered dermatology tool for consumers. The app allows consumers to use their phone’s camera to capture images of their skin, hair, or nail concern from different angles. The app will then guide the user through a series of questions to better understand the users’ skin type, how long they have had the issue, and if any other symptoms are present.

Our past research on smartphones in healthcare highlights the power that smartphones may have in providing digital capabilities that can safely reach consumers who may otherwise face long drives, difficulty getting time off work, or lack of access to affordable care. An estimated 3 billion people globally have access to a smartphone. Furthermore, 41% of individuals use a smartphone today to assess their symptoms. This means that Google’s AI dermatologist tool can help with the shift from reactive to proactive engagement by empowering smartphone users to make more informed decisions about their skin, hair, or nail conditions, potentially leading to improved outcomes and lower medical expenditures.

Google’s AI dermatologist tool will help address key barriers in access to care for consumers and help them take an empowered role in their care. This tool may help:

  1. Lower the cost of care for consumers. On average, a dermatologist visit costs consumers $150. Google’s AI dermatologist tool offers a starting point for consumers and makes skincare advice more accessible for people who cannot afford traditional options.
  2. Increase access to dermatological care. Over 2 billion people globally suffer from dermatologic issues, but there is a shortage of specialists. Although dermatologist density has increased from an estimated 1.9 specialists per 100,000 individuals in 1970 to 3.4 in 2017, the recommended density of 4.0 specialists per 100,000 people for adequate dermatologic care has not been met, and the gap between access in rural and urban areas is growing.
  3. Improve care outcomes with earlier diagnosis. Through the tool, users can collect data that may lead to an earlier diagnosis by prompting users to see a clinician. Google’s AI dermatologist tool allows users to capture their condition in real time, which is key when patients face an average wait time of 18 to 33 days. As Dr. John Maitland told Forrester in an interview, “We often use the photographs that people have on their phones. The rashes may have changed or gone away. [If] they can show us photos when they first got it, we can see the progression.”
  4. Enable consumers to make informed decisions about their healthcare. Google’s tool can give users the information they need to make an informed decision about next steps — whether that is more research or making an appointment. The AI model analyzes the data and pictures you provide against its knowledge of 288 conditions to give a list of possible matching conditions that users can research further.

Google is clear: This is not intended to provide a diagnosis or be a substitute for medical advice, but this tool is an important step in supporting the rise of consumerism in healthcare, enabling users to make more informed decisions about their skin, hair, and nail conditions.

Google plans to launch its AI dermatologist tool later this year. To learn more about the power of smartphones and other digital engagement tools in healthcare, check out the webinar and series of reports below.

Researched and written with Research Associate Kara Wilson.