I’m addicted to the gruesome and beautiful photographs on Figure 1, an Instagram for doctors
nick DeVito is a third-year resident at Tufts Medical Center working toward a career in hematology and oncology. During rotations, if he’s feeling bored, he likes to whip out his smartphone and browse through Figure 1, a mobile app he compares to Instagram for doctors. He will offer suggestions on difficult diagnoses and favorite particularly beautiful photos of growths, gashes, and gangrene. By and large the service is used by medical professionals, but every once and a while, a picture is worth sharing with everyone. “My dad works in hardware sales, so I had to show him this one picture of a patient with a two-by-four through his chest,” says DeVito. “There are images on here that anyone can connect to.”
I downloaded Figure 1 a few weeks ago as I was preparing to write this article. Doctors would post images along with a description of the patient and the condition. Photos are tagged and organized by anatomy and speciality. Sometimes the poster would ask for advice. But just as often they wanted to highlight a particularly interesting x-ray, brutal injury, or before-and-after image of a successful surgery. I immediately felt like an interloper, prying into people’s deeply disturbing and tragic moments, and listening in as doctors discussed the prognosis. Only medical professionals can comment, but anyone can view the exchange of shop talk.
Figure 1 was created after Joshua Landy, a critical care physician, spent a semester as a visiting scholar at Stanford, studying how doctors were using their smartphones to communicate. It turned out that plenty of them were already exchanging images through email, text messages, and social media. “But there was a big privacy problem there,” says Landy, now the chief medical officer at the company. Identifiable information about patients was often left intact. “While people were sharing knowledge, it wasn’t being done in a way that you could index, search, or scale.”
The service, headquartered in Toronto, launched in May of 2013 and has since grown to 19 employees and hundreds of thousands of active users who view over 2 million images a day. Landy had imagined that Figure 1 would be a sort of an updated medical textbook or teaching file, a place to store images that illustrated a particular condition and could be used for education. But as the community on the app grew, it became something he hadn’t expected, a real-time resource doctors could use to crowdsource advice.
Take the photo submitted by a nurse of a patient with a persistent and mysterious rash that had stumped all her local practitioners. In the comments someone suggested Porphyria, the ailment behind the madness of King George. “I would never have come up with this if not for Figure 1. It’s extraordinarily rare — so rare that no one even looks at it as a possibility,” the nurse wrote in a letter to the company. “I’m very grateful to your site because otherwise she wouldn’t have much longer.”
so what are you waiting for, get it now!
originally posted in The Verge