Comment on “Distribution of Skin-Type Diversity in Photographs in AAD Online Educational Modules”

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Authors’ Response

We thank Mr. Joshi and Dr. Kim for their reply to our article and their added contribution to the literature on inadequate representation of skin of color (SOC) in dermatology educational materials. In recent years, multiple analyses have reviewed textbooks and popular online resources for SOC representation.1 These resources encompass all levels of education—from the laypatient to the medical student, and to residency and beyond—demonstrating the significant challenges to overcome.

In addition, as Mr. Joshi and Dr. Kim state, the potential for these inadequately representative resources to serve as training data for prediction and classification tools adds further urgency to the broader task at hand, as we do not wish to perpetuate disparities. Several tools already exist, including Derm Assist, a recent Google-produced tool that suggests a list of diagnoses from patient-provided images.2 Although Derm Assist has been marked as a CE Class I (low risk) medical device in the European Union, the original research it is built on relied on training data with low representation of darker skin types (2.7% Fitzpatrick V and 0% Fitzpatrick VI),3 drawing concern for its generalizability.

These concerns about SOC representation are not new; dermatology advocates, scholars, and organizations such as the Skin of Color Society have been working to address these deficiencies for many years, contributing to education (including writing of resources and textbooks) and academic research. This work continues today. For instance, Lester et al4 described best practices for clinical photography in SOC; this guidance was not yet published at the time of our original submission. Not only should dermatology strive for increased quantity of representation but also quality. This metric is particularly important if the images are intended not just for education but also for use as training data for prediction and classification tools.

Examples of more recent actions at the organizational level include the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) announcing a 3-year plan to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion5 and VisualDx establishing #ProjectIMPACT, a collaboration to reduce health care biases in SOC.6 In the AAD 3-year plan, one goal is to “[i]ncrease use of images reflecting full spectrum of skin types and highlight topics on skin of color, health disparities, and cultural competency across all AAD education.”5 Although not specifically mentioned, we hope that the AAD has included updating the Basic Dermatology Curriculum, given its inadequate SOC representation, as part of its short-term goals. The greater recognition of these issues through more prevalent analyses published in leading dermatology journals is encouraging, and we hope both that improvements can be successfully implemented and that future studies will reveal improvements in representation.

Brian Chu, BS; Ramie Fathy, AB; Ginikanwa Onyekaba, BS; Jules B. Lipoff, MD

From the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Dr. Lipoff is from the Department of Dermatology and the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Correspondence: Jules B. Lipoff, MD, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Penn Medicine University City, 3737 Market St, Ste 1100, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (


1. Perlman KL, Williams NM, Egbeto IA, et al. Skin of color lacks representation in medical student resources: a cross-sectional study. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2021;7:195-196. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2020.12.018

2. Bui P, Liu Y. Using AI to help find answers to common skin conditions. Published May 18, 2021. Accessed June 12, 2021.

3. Liu Y, Jain A, Eng C, et al. A deep learning system for differential diagnosis of skin diseases. Nature Medicine. 2020;26:900-908. doi:10.1038/s41591-020-0842-3

4. Lester JC, Clark L, Linos E, et al. Clinical photography in skin of colour: tips and best practices. Br J Dermatol. 2021;184:1177-1179. doi:10.1111/bjd.19811

5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Diversity in dermatology: diversity committee approved plan 2021-2023. Published January 26, 2021. Accessed June 24, 2021.

6. VisualDx. #ProjectIMPACT. Accessed June 24, 2021.


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