Study: Scientific articles on atopic dermatitis contain almost no patient images

Scientific articles on the common skin condition atopic dermatitis contain almost no images of patients, according to a study from the University of Gothenburg. More images would make it easier for patients to participate in decisions about their own care. 

Sam Polesie, associate professor at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg and a dermatologist at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, has been responsible for the study:

In recent years, patients' rights to participate have been strengthened. Healthcare professionals should today make treatment decisions together with the patient. But scientific articles have not kept pace with this development. We need more images of patients as visual aids in communication. It is difficult for patients to understand the figures used in scientific publications to describe severity or the effect a certain treatment may have."

Sam Polesie, Associate Professor, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg

A total of six depicted patients

Thus, without images, patients are excluded from decisions about their own care. Recently, Sam Polesie, together with Danish colleagues, published a similar study, which showed that only a fraction of all patients with psoriasis in clinical trials are depicted in scientific articles. For atopic dermatitis, it turns out that even fewer patients are depicted.

The results of the study are published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment. It is a systematic review article covering 60 studies with a total of nearly 18,000 patients. In all these studies, there were 16 images of a total of six patients. This means that as little as 0.3 per thousand of the patients were represented in images in the published articles.

Common skin disease

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic recurring inflammatory skin disease that causes dry, itchy areas on the skin. Approximately one in four children and one in ten adults have atopic dermatitis. The severity of the disease varies greatly. In severe cases, the entire life situation is affected.

These eczemas can manifest in several ways and look different depending on how rich in melanin the skin is.

"Images are also important for understanding that atopic dermatitis looks very different in different types of skin. In people with light skin, the eczema appears as redness, while in people with melanin-rich skin, the eczema often becomes darker, where the disease can be perceived as more purple or grayish," says Sam Polesie.

Educational purpose

There is also a clear need for images of more patients with atopic dermatitis in medical education, according to Sam Polesie:

"There is a need for readily available sets of images showing different types of atopic dermatitis in patient groups and the response to treatment that can be used in the education of healthcare professionals, medical students, and also for patient education," he says.

The education of patients is also a cornerstone in international recommendations and guidelines for atopic dermatitis.

The absence of images can also be significant for the development within AI, where machine learning algorithms need to be trained on large collections of images of atopic dermatitis. In the near future, such algorithms, which combine the appearance of the eczema with other relevant patient information, could help dermatologists identify the most effective treatment options for individual patients.

The study was conducted in collaboration with Mikael Alsterholm, who, in addition to his affiliation with the University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska University Hospital, is active as a researcher at Karolinska Institutet.

Journal reference:

Polesie, S., & Alsterholm, M. (2024). A systematic review investigating the proportion of clinical images shared in prospective randomized controlled trials involving patients with atopic dermatitis and systemic pharmacotherapy. Journal of Dermatological Treatment.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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