Allan Halpern, MD
Few medical specialties are as visual as dermatology. So to Halpern, using photography to combat melanoma seems the most logical thing in the world. "We've been doing it for years," he shrugs. But MSK is still the only organization using his pioneering approach of three-dimensional full-body photos for the early detection of melanoma. The images establish a baseline so that new and changing moles can be spotted earlier and subtler melanomas can be identified. "We are amassing gazillions of pictures—people come away from Thanksgiving dinner with 50 digital images and two videos," Halpern says. "It seems inevitable that we'll find new ways to use digital photography to benefit patients."
Yes, there's been some pushback from doctors, who fear premature obsolescence. Still, Halpern counters that "this technology still relies on clinicians to make the evaluation, based on what something used to look like. It should be a lot more desirable to the average dermatologist, who now either has to jot down, dictate or type a paragraph-long description of something they could have photographed in less than a second."
As to the, ahem, delicate privacy issue regarding full-body naked photos? "There's no question that having someone's naked pictures is a very sensitive issue," Halpern admits. Nonetheless, that will remain a trade-off patients have to make. "We give them their own body photographs in a book and the existence of those books has caused real concerns," he adds. "In some cases, patients have hidden them so well they can't find them when it's time for the next visit."
Halpern believes that new technology—in dermatology and elsewhere—moves physicians to a higher plane of providing care. He also points to the use of 3D cameras as part of a larger trend of digital imaging finding its way into dermatology. But he adds that it likely won't be long before patients, either those with melanoma or those at risk, start asking the questions for which technology can provide a fast answer, "like, 'How has my mole changed? Show me.' " —Sarah Mahoney