Digital Diagnostics for Psoriasis

Treating chronic skin diseases better, faster, and more effectively with an AI-based app

Research Focus: Applied Artificial Intelligence

Improving the physical and mental condition of patients with chronic skin diseases, as well as predicting and preventing severe relapses, is the aim of HybridVITA, a hybrid solution with contactless viso-tactile diagnostics.

About 800 million people worldwide suffer from a chronic skin disease such as psoriasis. In Germany alone, 8 million people are affected. Chronic progression and frequent relapses require continuous and long-term dermatological treatment and represent an immense strain for those affected. Still, fixed appointments and long waiting times in surgeries and outpatient clinics are inadequate, given the dynamic nature of these illnesses. The HybridVITA software application (app) based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) is designed to close the gap between patients and healthcare professionals to improve patient care and their quality of life.

Early progression diagnostics, more straightforward categorization, and faster launch of necessary therapies

The HybridVITA project is a joint conception of Prof. Dr. Astrid Schmieder from the University Hospital Würzburg (UKW) and Christoph Zimmermann from the FZI Research Center for Information Technology in Karlsruhe. The senior physician at the dermatology clinic of the UKW already has favorable previous experience with digital applications. With HybridVITA, psoriasis patients now have the opportunity to regularly document their disease via an app by photographing and uploading their psoriasis plaques, which are characterized by thick, red, sometimes very scaly skin changes, and make the necessary appointments for virtual visits. An AI analyzes the images and quantifies the blood flow and the nature of the skin alterations, allowing the attending physician to initiate the necessary therapies promptly in the event of deterioration. “During our virtual on-demand visits, we can even see the skin changes in 3D with the help of virtual reality goggles and feel the depth of the plaques with a sensor glove,” reports Astrid Schmieder.

The dermatologist who heads the immunodermatology and digital medicine sections at the dermatology clinic of the UKW summarizes: “With HybridVITA, the care of patients with chronic inflammatory skin diseases can be maintained even in exceptional situations. Thanks to an intelligent summary of progression data, we can differentiate between severe and mild disease progression and thus enable better triage.”

Better doctor-patient relationship and psychological intervention

With HybridVITA, around 30 percent of direct patient contacts in dermatology practices and clinics could become redundant. At the same time, the app-based solution and contactless diagnostics improve the doctor-patient relationship by ensuring fast and easy interaction and high-quality, transparent treatment. The dermatological treatment is flanked by psychotherapeutic coaching developed by the Central Institute for Mental Health (CIMH) in Mannheim. Patients with psoriasis often suffer from accompanying psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or addiction, which may either be a consequence of the skin disease or occur with greater intensity due to a worsening of the condition. The app is designed to make access to psychotherapeutic counseling services more manageable for those affected.

A strong team: University Hospital Würzburg, Heidelberg University, Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim, FZI Research Center for Information Technology, HS Analysis, and project coordinator DataSpark

The joint project is funded with around 2 million euros, 70 percent of which the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) provides. The project is coordinated by DataSpark GmbH & Co. KG located in Frankfurt am Main. Apart from the project management, the technical implementation of the app is also in the hands of DataSpark, a provider of AI-based software solutions and consulting and development services. The so-called API (application programming interface) for detecting skin and pathological skin areas comes from HS Analysis GmbH in Karlsruhe, a specialist in AI-based analyses of medical images, diagnostic reports, and molecular data. For the automatic analysis of skin changes – the differentiation between skin and psoriasis – HS Analysis has already evaluated up to 4,000 patient images. The FZI Research Center for Information Technology, also from Karlsruhe, is in charge of the user-centered development within the project and promotes cascading interaction between patient, doctor, and the HybridVITA system utilizing a viso-tactile system for remote sensing of the skin surface by a doctor. The FZI is also developing methods for therapy evaluation based on skin perfusion measurements. The feasibility study, which has now been positively assessed by the ethics committee, is being carried out bi-centrically at the dermatology clinics of University Medical Centre Mannheim (UMM), Heidelberg University, and University Hospital Würzburg. A total of 100 patients with psoriasis are to be recruited. Three medical PhD students provide dedicated support to the clinic team.

“If the feasibility study goes as expected, we would like to test the app and the digital diagnostics in a large clinical trial,” says Astrid Schmieder. The requirement for effective and efficient treatment is more apparent with increasing patient numbers and ever longer waiting times, especially for appointments at university hospitals.