A Toronto-based startup wants to become the Instagram of the healthcare world, hoping that healthcare providers will use its social media platform to share medical photos to determine patients' diagnoses.
Figure 1, whose free mobile application of the same name is available for both Apple and Android devices, allows providers to post photos of patient conditions, asking fellow clinicians for their expert opinion on them.
Such sharing would seem to raise patient-privacy issues. But Figure 1's developers say they've taken steps to ensure the program protects patient privacy.
“Privacy isn't an obstacle to us. It's one of our goals,” said Dr. Joshua Landy, Figure 1's co-founder and chief medical officer. All posts on Figure 1 must be approved by the app's team, for example.
Before a user posts a photo to Figure 1, he or she must use in-app tools to censor any identifying elements in the photo, including admission bracelets, faces or tattoos, unless the medical condition is on the face, in which case, users black it out as much as possible. If a photo has any identifying factors, or is perceived as exploitative, Landy and his team won't allow it to be posted to Figure 1, and the user will receive an email explaining why.
Doctors sometimes share their discoveries on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, but those platforms don't provide the same privacy tools that Figure 1 does, Landy said. In addition, Figure 1 shows users when the company has verified the licensing and profiles of physicians, nurses, physician assistants, medical students and nursing students.
Its privacy focus—and the addition of an in-house attorney—have allowed Figure 1 to develop strong relationships with hospitals, Landy said. Though he declined to name any specific facilities, Landy said several hospitals have approached his company about developing policies surrounding apps like Figure 1, to ensure that physicians understand the parameters within which they can use the application.
Setting clear guidelines for the use of photo-sharing apps is definitely something hospitals should be thinking about, said Brad Rostolsky, a partner in law firm Reed Smith's life sciences health industry group. Hospital human resources, legal and compliance departments should set boundaries around when photos can be taken and shared, and whether patient consent must be obtained, he said. In-hospital providers should check with their facility's legal and compliance departments before posting photos.
“I don't think there is uber-significant risk if things are happening the way they're supposed to happen, but there's some risk here,” Rostolsky said, noting that Figure 1 moderators could make mistakes.
Even if a facility has a workplace photography ban—a practice which Rostolsky said is not typical but also not unusual among hospitals—providers can still register comments on the app's photos.
A minority of users are producing content, while the majority of Figure 1 users are using the app solely to view and comment on photos, Landy said. “The utility of Figure 1 isn't just that you must share with others, it's that you can learn from the experience of others,” he said.
One hospital has approached Figure 1 about building an internal version of the app just for its staff. Though Landy said siloing off the app for a single community would limit its potential, one-to-one messaging could be in the app's future.
Figure 1 launched in May 2013 and has raised $6 million in venture funding to date.
Follow Adam Rubenfire on Twitter: @arubenfire