Instagram for doctors: How Figure 1 is medicine's answer to crowdsourcing diseases
Dubbed as the “Instagram for Doctors,” a Canadian startup is putting specialists at a doctor’s fingertips in minutes rather than hours and is quickly becoming a growing hit.
The app, called Figure 1, allows doctors around the world to upload anonymous photos of their most compelling cases with the intent of trading information and asking for advice. From X-rays to scans to charts, the platform allows for instant access to clinical information from hospitals and medical centers around the world.
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While the app was launched in 2013, a year later, in October 2014, it was only available in four countries. Now, with interest from professionals and medical students alike, the app can be accessed in more than 100 countries.
“Medicine has always used asynchronous communications such as pagers or phones,” Dr. Joshua Landy, co-founder of Figure 1, told The Guardian. “Now we want to help people share images, enabling more eyes on more cases, but with privacy and learning in mind.”
Keeping patient privacy in mind
Patient privacy is a priority for healthcare professionals as well as patients, and Figure 1 kept that value in mind when designing the app. Uploading images to the platform isn’t as easy as it is on Instagram, as the uploader is required to follow strict guidelines on what is and isn’t permitted and must submit their credentials for approval.
Any identifying details related to patients must be removed prior to posting, and a number of intuitive in-app tools allow users to easily do this. An automatic face-blocking feature detects faces in an image and blocks them, while a manual block feature allows users to block anything else that might identify a patient, such as tattoos.
Once an image is uploaded, Figure 1’s medical officer and team of operators perform a review of the image to verify that all identifying information has been properly removed before it even goes live on the app.
While each medical institution has its own patient consent policies, Figure 1 offers a “tap, type and sign” consent form where patients or their representatives can complete a jurisdiction-specific consent form that is kept by the doctor.
“Once images are uploaded into the stream, comments and answers start appearing within minutes,” said Landy. “But you can also page people for specific queries.”
Verified doctors can be “paged”, which sends them a notification of a query or picture, asking for their expert opinion. The average time for a case to be solved is 30 minutes.
Responses from the medical community
“My main use for Figure 1 is to teach. I upload radiology cases such as x-rays or CT scans with a question or two, and use the commenting feature to teach people about the specific x-ray signs. The reach of the platform means I can teach across timezones, borders, medical specialities and grades.” — Dr. Vikas Shah, consultant radiologist at University Hospitals Leicester (The Guardian)
“Often in medicine we’re required to learn about a broad range of diseases some of which are quite uncommon. Thus the ability for other healthcare professionals to share images of signs of disease in an easily accessible app has been of huge benefit for me. It represents a step forward from classical textbooks.” — Fiachra Maguire, medical student from Trinity College Dublin (TNW)
"I'm a very visual learner. Most doctors are ... and we like to talk to each other. It's classic medicine, digitized.” — Sheryll Shipes, third-year medical resident of Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial in Texas (CNN)
The future of Figure 1
Figure 1 is the latest app in a wave of medically-focused tech advances that are changing the doctor-patient relationship. Landy’s goal is to help democratize medical knowledge.
“I want that knowledge to be everywhere in the world where there is Internet signal,” Landy told the Huffington Post, “because the knowledge of specialists shouldn’t be beyond the reach of the world’s medical community.”