Imagine you’re a doctor and a patient comes in to show you a strange rash. You think you know what it is, but you’re not entirely sure. What do you do next?
Joshua Landy is hoping that you’ll turn to Figure 1, an app that has been described as Instagram for doctors.
Landy says that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it gives you an idea of what it’s like – minus the Instagram filters. Doctors can share photos of their patients to educate other doctors, or to ask for comments and advice.
Landy, a Toronto-based physician, says he noticed that doctors across the continent were sharing photos of patients, asking for help or trying to learn from one another.
“If you look across North America, you can see this is happening everywhere, tens of thousands of times every day,” he says.
The app, created by Figure 1 Inc., a start-up led by Landy, 33, and two partners, simply gives these doctors a place to share those photos in a way that’s safe for both doctors and patients, as well as very easy to do. Doctors can just snap a photo and share it, attaching hashtags to it to help others find it in searches.
One of the most obvious questions that go along with this app is about patient confidentiality. How can you share photos of patients while keeping their identity and health-care information safe?
Landy says his app makes it easy, with automatic face detection and a feature that allows users to click on any part of the screen to obscure the image. It also reminds doctors each time they post to cover up any identifying features that are not automatically censored, like tattoos.
“We turned to a specialty health-care law firm in Toronto and one in Boston. What we found was, if you remove all the identifying information from the pictures, then yes, you can [share photos],” he says.
Landy isn’t the only one who sees a need for this app. Figure 1 recently raised seed funding to the tune of $2 million. The funding round was co-led by Version One Ventures and Rho Canada Ventures.
“That’s what is giving us our runway for the next year or year and a half,” Landy says, explaining that the money covers the company’s operation costs and the salaries for all 10 employees.
Although he says there are many ways the app can earn money, he’s not ready to share any of the ideas. The focus right now is on development, and the monetization will come later.
Right now, the program is only available for iPhones and other devices running iOS, but Landy says thanks to the seed money, it will soon be available on Android devices, as well as on the web, so doctors will be able to use the programs while sitting at their desks in their offices.
The other limitation at the moment is that only licensed physicians can post photos and comments. That ensures the photos are accurately described and the advice is genuine, he says. However, anybody can use the app to browse and search through photos and read comments for educational purposes, and he says he hopes to expand the app to give allowances to non-physician health-care providers.
The medical community has so far responded well to the app, Landy says.
“There are people seeing patients and trying to answer questions and find knowledge any time of the day,” he says.
“Even when I’m working in the middle of the night… I see there are many people also working through the night on difficult cases.
“There’s this medical community out there, and I feel part of it.”
The health-care industry tends to take much longer to adapt to new technology than the general population, he says, so he was thrilled when he saw how fast health care professionals were downloading and joining the Figure 1 community. In just over seven months, tens of thousands of users have used the program.
“It was quite exciting for us to see how open the medical community was embracing something like this,” Landy says, crediting the success to the fact that the program doesn’t ask doctors to do anything new.
“We’re saying, ‘You’re already using pictures. You should do it in a way that’s safe and in a way that helps other people.’
“That’s the ethos behind our community.”