Figure 1 and Continuing Medical Education Through Mobile Apps

"It was something that was waiting to exist," says Joshua Landy, MD, the co-founder of the popular medical image-sharing app Figure 1.

After being on the market for just more than two months, the app has tens of thousands of users, reports Dr. Landy, and was the most downloaded medical app in July.

"We got way more users than we thought we were going to," says Dr. Landy, and feedback has been very positive. "I love hearing that I wasn't the only one hoping for a tool like this."

As a critical care physician, Dr. Landy had realized a need for an easy-to-use platform for sharing medical images, both to provide consultation on specific medical cases and for general educational purposes. The idea for an app came together when Dr. Landy was a visiting scholar at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., where research on mobile health technology was being conducted.

"They did a whole study on what people were doing on their phones," he says, "and the tools I wish existed collided in my mind."

Two months later, supported by two partners who had the legal and technical acumen to bring Dr. Landy's idea to fruition, a Figure 1 prototype was created. An influx of outside funding helped launch the app in the iTunes store May 28.

The app allows users to take and share clinical images with other users, comment on others' images and search through a growing image library. The app is designed to be "low-friction," explains Dr. Landy, easy to use and not requiring protracted periods of typing to share or find information.  

The app has several safeguards to protect patient privacy in this era of increased HIPAA regulations, explains Dr. Landy. When a user takes a photo including what the app identifies as a face, a gray box is put over the portion of the image containing the face. Native tools within the app also allow users to remove identifying details like tattoos with the swipe of a finger, or crop the photo down to just the area of interest.

Users can also flag photos they feel reveal too much, and these photos are immediately taken down, explains Dr. Landy. "We have a pretty vigilant community," he says, "and we make sure private information stays private."

Dr. Landy and his team currently have plans to expand the app to the Android platform and create a desktop version for use by laboratory technicians, hematopathologists and other specialists who work mostly at computers.

"It's important to me this app reaches as many people as possible," says Dr. Landy. "The more accessible it is, the more people can use it to expand their knowledge to better care for their patients."

Dr. Landy sees apps like Figure 1 as providing an easy, cost-effective way to help physicians keep learning and improving. "Continuing medical education is a principle all physicians adopt early in their training," says Dr. Landy. "Learning to share interesting cases, and learning from those shared by others, is part of learning how to do your job as a physician."

"Healthcare professionals are already drawn towards continuing education," adds Dr. Landy. "They are already sharing images with each other, these conversations are already happening. When these moments of learning are captured the whole medical community can benefit."

More Articles on mHealth:

Scripps Launches Study to Examine Cost Savings of mHealth
14 Statistics on Clinicians and Mobile Device Usage
Study: The Characteristics of mHealth Users

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