Figure 1 has been called "Instagram for doctors" and in just over a year it has attracted more than 125,000 doctors, nurses and medical students who use the app to share images of rare, interesting or confounding conditions they encounter on the job.
Photos are organized by anatomy and specialty, so a user can look up images of eyes or ears, for example, or images related to a particular medical field like neurology or plastic surgery. Users have to edit out any personal or identifiable information that appears in their photos and the app has a built-in consent form to get permission from patients when necessary.
The images posted to the app have generated more than 100 million views to date, says co-founder Dr. Josh Landy, who juggles work on Figure 1 with his job as an intensive care physician at Scarborough General Hospital.
"We were studying the workflow behaviours of young physicians and were finding that young physicians are using their smartphones and capturing pictures of interesting or puzzling or classic cases and sending them to each other by text or email to teach each other," Landy says in explaining the motivation for launching the app.
"We thought this would be a really great opportunity to capture all those educational moments and keep them and archive them in a way that could be accessed by any health-care professional and help spread out the knowledge."
Figure 1 recently hit a new milestone, with its users generating one million photo views in a single day. And the company just raised US$4 million in venture capital to help spur its growth.
The most frequently requested feature is the ability to follow a user, which is being worked on.
"I don't want to promise any features that don't exist but it is something we're working towards," Landy says, adding the Figure 1 team is debating whether users should be shown a full stream of content from the users they follow, like Twitter, or an algorithmically curated collection of posts based on their interests, like Facebook.
The development team is also thinking about how to incorporate video into the app, although it poses privacy challenges. While images are easy enough to crop or edit to protect a patient's privacy, video is trickier.
"We've definitely started the research into how to do it," Landy says.
Browsing through the app can be uncomfortable for the squeamish and Landy admits even he can get queasy looking at some images.
"Everybody has their weak points, I certainly have mine, even though I see patients who are very sick for many, many different reasons," he says.
"Those sensitivities are not only based on what you don't see very often and what you're not used to, but there's also something individual about it all. Everybody has their favourite and least favourite bodily fluid that they don't want to see or don't mind — and that's often a very weird conversation that you get to have with other health-care professionals."