All-in-One Photo-Sharing App for Docs: The Cool, the Gross, and the Puzzling

August 16, 2013
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Originally published on MedCityNews.com.

mHealth appImagine opening your Instagram app and being greeted with photos of an amputated, infected human leg, or a diabetic foot ulcer.

Originally published on MedCityNews.com.

mHealth appImagine opening your Instagram app and being greeted with photos of an amputated, infected human leg, or a diabetic foot ulcer.

What’s nauseating to the average person could be interesting or helpful to a clinician, said Joshua Landy, an ICU doctor who dreamed up an app called Figure 1.

On the crowdsourced photo-sharing app, doctors upload interesting cases and engage in discussion.

“Now that cellphone cameras are so good that you can take high-resolution images, people are documenting unique or puzzling or straight-out-of-the-textbook illnesses,” Landy said. “But usually, they’re shared one-on-one, and as soon as both as those people stop paying attention, those cases aren’t shared anymore. Those great educational assets are no longer available.”

While he was at Stanford last summer doing research on how clinicians use their smart phones, Landy decided he wanted to create a place for clinicians to preserve and share those photos in a way that also protected patient privacy.

His first step was spending a few months consulting with two healthcare law firms to ensure that the app respected healthcare privacy laws. The app takes extra precautions beyond what’s necessary to do that, he said. For example, if someone uploads a photo with a face in it, a built-in algorithm detects that and blocks it out. After uploading, the user is also prompted to use a paint tool to block out any text, tattoos or distinctive birthmarks in the photo before submitting it. Then, all images are reviewed by Figure 1 before they’re made public.

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Users can also annotate their images by placing arrows, or can choose to share them privately with certain users. If photos are shared publicly, once they’ve been approved they appear in a stream on the main screen of the app. Each is accompanied by the username of the person who uploaded it, a caption, a star button to save the image to the user’s favorites, a flag button that removes the image from the public feed if someone identifies a privacy violation, and a comment box.

To give you an idea of the kinds of conversations taking place, one recent post includes a photo of pink bumps on an arm with the caption, “Came up suddenly on a 7yo – thoughts? Impetigo? No pain or itch.” One person responded, “I’d take him in it could be a lot of different things from burn to infection that can spread.”

Launched just three months ago, the iPhone app already has “tens of thousands of users,” according to Landy, and has scored good ratings so far. Android and web versions of the app are planned, and Landy is currently raising money to move forward with them.

He attributes the speedy adoption of the app as simply doctors being doctors. “In medicine there tends to be a culture of sharing interesting findings with each other,” he said. “After you spend 10 to 12 years training, learning and sharing new findings becomes second-nature to the way you practice.”