Crowdsourcing Knowledge For Medical Professionals – Figure 1

In an age where information is abundant and so are the needs, technology has stepped in beautifully to ensure the two meet. One such example is Figure 1, an app that is helping doctors save lives by making information accessible. It is a free, photo sharing app exclusively for healthcare professionals. Today, we speak to Joshua Landy, MD and co-founder of this wonderful tool.

What is Figure 1, and how does it work?

Figure 1 is a picture sharing app for healthcare. It permits doctors and nurses to take pictures of cases they see, and share them with other healthcare professionals around the world. This way, doctors can get fast feedback and share rare cases for the benefit of other professionals. It is based on the very common behavior in medical schools where learning happens by studying real medical cases. The more you see and share, the better you get at recognizing and learning. What we did was use this behavior, and use the mobile phone which is always around us. The mix of the two has created a space where we can discuss pictures in a medical context.

How did Figure 1 begin? Who are the people behind it?

We are three founders. I am a practicing critical care doctor. Greg Levey is a Communications professor at a university in Toronto. Richard Penner is a developer who has worked at a very large e-book company designing their apps in the past. We got together in the fall of 2012 and decided to start Figure 1 together.

Where did the idea come from?

The idea came from my experience in the hospital, looking after patients who were very sick with complex conditions, and my need to share information with other specialists. There was also the awareness of how the mobile phone is everywhere now. I did a research in Stanford in 2012 to see how young physicians are using their phones. What we saw was that they were taking pictures of cases and sharing them all the time, every day! For learning, cooperation, and to ask questions. I recognized that there was utility here in enabling healthcare professionals worldwide to share medical knowledge, and to keep learning throughout their careers.

Given its utility, Figure 1 sounds like a great app for doctors. But even something this useful needs a channel for the word to spread. How did you manage to do that?

We have a compelling story that convinces people of the benefits of the app. We have also been covered in some newspapers which has helped. Every medical school that uses Figure 1 has a student ambassador. We invite people to contact us and become a part of the Figure 1 team by helping their colleagues learn more and get more access to it in their medical schools. These are the different channels we have used. Of course, it helps that the doctors today are already so tech savvy so they take to it quickly.


Who is this app meant for? Is it only for healthcare professionals or can the general public also use it to educate themselves?

The app is just for licensed healthcare professionals! We also have a strict no-selfie policy which means people cannot take pictures of themselves even if they are healthcare professionals.

This would lead to the need for moderation. There is always the risk of misuse, isn’t it?

Yes. We have privacy tools to ensure users abide by the appropriate privacy standards. The app has an automatic face blocking tool, instructions on how to remove identifying details, and a built-in consent form in the app written by healthcare lawyers all over the world. There are people in the team looking at every image that’s being posted. The content has to be informative and for educational purposes. We do not approve of pictures that have been shared only for their shock value or to create sensationalism.

Can you share with us some successes that have come out of the app? Some useful cases maybe?


There is a doctor who works in the rainforest in Peru and he rides a motorcycle into the jungle to work! He has to sterilize and clean his own equipment, and he looks after every part of patient care. There aren’t specialists nearby. He needs to know when someone has to fly out of the rainforest and go to a dedicated medical center. So he uses Figure 1 to get in touch with specialists around the world to do what is best for his patients.

Then there was this other doctor who was able to provide the right treatment to her patient because she had seen the same rash that the patient had, on Figure 1 the previous day! If she hadn’t, treatment would have been difficult because the patient already had a weakened immune system and needed urgent therapy.

There was another case of a patient with life threatening meningitis. The doctor was able to identify the special type of rash that comes with meningitis because of the app, and the patient was put in ICU. The patient could have had severe brain damage or could have even died had timely diagnosis not been done.

There are hundreds of such cases. In fact, many more that we don’t know about, because we don’t speak to every doctor who uses the app. But credit is definitely due to the tool for saving lives.

Figure 1 also received its second round of funding recently.

That’s right. We were just funded by this amazing venture capital company from New York called Union Square Ventures (USV). We’re thrilled to be a part of their esteemed portfolio. Because of the way their portfolio has been structured, we have been able to learn a lot from the previous companies USV has funded, like Twitter, Tumblr, Kickstarter etc. There is immense learning in terms of how to make the right choices and when.

What are your plans for the future of Figure 1?

The goal is to have Figure 1 on the phones of all the 34 million healthcare professionals in the world so they can access and gain information that they want and need for the best treatment of their patients. Currently most of our users are in the US but there are tens of thousands of users outside of the Americas as well, Europe being another huge chunk. In fact almost 20% of medical students in UK use Figure 1! We also gain thousands of users every week from India, where people tend to use their phones very frequently for work, more than possibly anywhere else. People are definitely ready to use this tool.

How do you think doctors can make the most of this tool?

By joining the community and enjoying the conversations! You’ll see cases you’ve never seen before, you’ll even handle some of them yourself! The best way to get better at any skill is by increasing the amount of time you practice it. Seeing more cases and understanding their solutions will only make you better skilled as a healthcare provider.

As part of OK, Intrnt’s efforts to connect people, we asked Joshua if he would like to speak to some of our readers directly and he happily agreed!

Write to us and we will get back to you and tell you how you can reach him!

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Category: Game Changers