Toronto-based Figure 1 wants 'Instagram for doctors' to go global

Figure 1, a Toronto-based free app, lets healthcare professionals share photos of medical marvels or anomalies to help better diagnose patients.

App lets doctors and other medical professionals share photos of patients' medical rarities

Figure 1, a Toronto-based app, lets medical professionals share photos of unidentifiable patients

Think of Instagram.

Then take away smiling selfies and grumpy cats, and replace them with oozing sores and bloody limbs.

That's the idea behind Figure 1, a Toronto-based free app for healthcare professionals to share photos of medical marvels or anomalies.

Doctors, dentists, nurses, medical residents and interns primarily use the app. But it's open access, meaning anyone can see the stream of images that range from x-rays and CT scans to snapshots of large growths on a patient and open cavities on a surgical table.

"The photo will then generate lots of discussion, whether its treatment options or differential diagnosis, so there are thousands of comments," said co-founder Gregory Levey in an interview with The Exchange.

But because it's a public network, Levey admits there is no guarantee the photos won't end up elsewhere on the internet in a sensationalist manner.

"We do our very best. We have a number of behind-the-scenes mechanisms in place to prevent that," he Levey.

One safeguard the app employs is a verification process for licensed physicians. Once their credentials are confirmed by accessing databases or publicly-available information, a checkmark icon is added next to the username, similar to the verification system used on Twitter.

What about patient privacy?

According to Levey, any user who posts an image must use the in-app tools to blur or blackout features that identify the patient, like faces or tattoos. Then a medical officer and team of moderators review those images before they're made public.

"The images are not personal health information, they're educational informational content. You can't reasonably decide who that patient is," said Levey. This distinction allows Figure 1 avoid running afoul of privacy laws in Canada.

Today, the site has more than 125,000 users. Earlier this month, it secured $4 million in funding led by Union Square Ventures. 

"The focus now is on growth to try to get this to become a giant healthcare network," said Levey.

Figure 1 is available in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and plans to expand to other countries.