Selfies: from signposting narcissism to diagnosing heart disease
Until very recently the only medical conditions likely to be linked to a ‘selfie’ were the psychological disorders of narcissism or low self-esteem. The proliferation of self portraits on social media has for some time been seen as a symptom, or possibly even a cause, of some of the darker traits of the human personality. Two academic studies were published in 2015 which drew connections between ‘selfies’ and the so-called Dark Triad of personality traits, being narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. So far, so dark. But what else, other than narcissism, could selfies help us diagnose? Recent research has shown there may be a far more positive use for the much maligned self portrait. A study in the European Heart Journal has found that selfies could be used to diagnose heart disease. The study, which came out of the Chinese National Centre for Cardiovascular Disease found that using artificial intelligence, computers can analyse selfies for some of the tell-tale signs of an increased risk of heart disease. These include subtle changes to the skin around people’s eye-lids and in the colour in their corneas, as well as more down to earth signs that are known to be indicators of heart disease, such as thinning or greying hair and wrinkles. "To our knowledge, this is the first work demonstrating that artificial intelligence can be used to analyse faces to detect heart disease,” said Professor Zhe Zheng, who led the research and is vice president of Fuwai Hospital, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, People's Republic of China.
“It is a step towards the development of a deep learning-based tool that could be used to assess the risk of heart disease, either in outpatient clinics or by means of patients taking 'selfies' to perform their own screening,” Despite the success of his study, Professor Zheng was careful to point out that the work is at an early stage and will take considerably more research before it could be considered for use in the real world. But the ambition is there. Dr Zheng explained that the ultimate goal was to be able to assess heart disease risk in advance of visiting a clinic, as a cheap, simple and effective way of identifying patients who need further investigation.
Mauriel Ramkhelawan, Director of Clinical Services and Registered Manager at (med)24 said: “The use of technology to speed up the diagnostic and treatment pathways for our members and customers is something we are exploring in detail. At first glance it looks like the work that is being done in China in this study is highly encouraging. It will take some time before we see anything like this in use in the UK or anywhere else in the world and if it were to be used it would no doubt be just part of a series of diagnostic tools. The speed of technological change at the moment is extraordinarily exciting and something we embrace at (med)24.”