Most people would not get excited over a photo of the rash associated with Lyme disease. But if you’re a user of Dr. Josh Landy’s mobile phone application Figure 1, these sorts of images of painful, fatal and unique conditions are exactly why you signed up.
Figure 1 is a new photo-sharing network designed for healthcare professionals. Dr. Landy, an intensive care physician at The Scarborough Hospital, co-founded the app with Ryerson Communications Professor Greg Levey and computer programmer Richard Penner.
Dr. Landy cites the “culture of physicians to share interesting findings, whether they’re classic ones we learn in medical school but rarely see, or picture-text book-perfect versions of things we see day-to-day,” as the inspiration for Figure 1. The idea is to take items already being passed around via email or text message and make them available to the medical community to encourage people to learn more about the conditions.
“There’s no doubt that continuing medical education saves lives,” says Dr. Landy. “If a healthcare professional has easier, more efficient access to information and can learn something more about a patient they are seeing, they are going to improve the care of that patient.”
Launched in late May 2013, Figure 1 – named after the term for illustrations in scientific journal and text books – now has tens of thousands of users and several thousand images uploaded. And that’s just as an app available exclusively for the iPhone. Dr. Landy hopes to expand the app to Android devices and the web soon.
Although the most common responses from his colleagues about Figure 1 alternate between “I wish I thought about that” or “I thought about doing that”, questions about patient privacy invariably follow.
Dr. Landy stresses that privacy was “the most important” issue when producing the app. After consulting various healthcare lawyers and hospital privacy officers – including the privacy officer at The Scarborough Hospital – the team came up with “a plan to protect patient details but at the same time allow healthcare professionals to upload their images.”
Whenever a user adds a photo they are met with privacy guidelines reminding them of all the information that must be removed and they can use an in-app tool to erase this information on the image. As well, the app includes an automatic face blocking feature which puts a grey box in front of any face that is part of an image.
While anyone can download the app, only individuals who categorize themselves as healthcare professionals can upload and comment on pictures. Physicians are further verified through their medical licence information.
Although Dr. Landy has never done a count of how many staff at The Scarborough Hospital have downloaded the app, he definitely knows the images that show up most frequently and get the most attention.
“There are a lot of fractures, skin conditions and really interesting anatomic findings during surgery or from pathology,” says Dr. Landy, who has personally added about 40 images to Figure 1. His favourite image is of a patient with situs inversus, where the organs are on the opposite side of the body. “I uploaded a picture of the patient’s x-ray where it shows the heart on the right side instead of the left.”
Dr. Landy admits he has “thoughts” about building other apps in the future (“I’d love to tackle hospital dictation.”). But for now, when he’s not practicing medicine, his focus is on “making sure we deliver Figure 1 to people in as good condition as we can and helping to build our community.”