New “Instagram-like” photo sharing app for doctors

A new mobile phone app that allows doctors to share clinical photos has been launched across Europe and is causing somewhat of a stir.

The free app, called Figure 1, was launched in 2013 and is already popular in the US and Canada with over 120,000 users – perhaps unsurprisingly, most of which are junior doctors and medical students.

Similar to the popular photo sharing social media channel, Instagram, Figure 1 allows doctors to upload images of their patients’ ailments and seek advice and opinions from other doctors as to the diagnosis in addition to just sharing curious and unusual cases.  For example, a dermatologist uploaded a picture of a strange and unidentifiable rash on their patient’s hand.  Shortly after in 22 responses from other doctors and medical students, the diagnosis was discussed and reached.

Figure 1 was developed by Canadian app developer, Richard Penner, who told the Huffington Post where he got the inspiration to develop the app:

“The idea actually started with my partner, Dr. Joshua Landy.  Josh is a practicing physician specialising in internal medicine and critical care.  He recognized that a lot of young physicians are taking pictures on their phones of interesting and representative cases and sharing them with small groups of colleagues, their medical school classmates, or other physicians to learn from.  He saw a need to make it easy to share these images (in a privacy safe way) with the broader healthcare community.  This way they could harness all of the medical knowledge that is currently being lost to anyone not involved in those conversations.”

Perhaps one of the biggest questions the app raises is that of patient privacy.  The developers say that doctors are required to get the patient’s permission before uploading images and no identifying features, such as tattoos, can be visible.  In addition, the app automatically obscures patient’s faces.  The developers also say that the app is just capturing “corridor conversations” that are already happening and that from their own research (in Canada), 13% of medical students are using their mobile phones anyway to take pictures of interesting cases and share them with fellow students via text or email.

So, could crowd-sourced learning and diagnosis be the future of the medical profession?  In the meantime, it is looking highly possible as the app is quickly increasing popularity among doctors and medical students. Only time will tell whether any further privacy, or indeed, liability questions will restrict its use.

Figure 1 is available to download from iTunes and Google play.

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