Figure 1 Aims to Create Community for Doctors

The app allows medical professionals to post pictures of interesting cases to ask questions or educate others.
Figure 1

A Figure 1 post. Photo provided to bostonmagazine.com

Nick Devito, an internal medicine resident at Tufts Medical Center, came upon Figure 1 the way many of us get our news: Facebook.

“I basically discovered it because a friend posted it on Facebook and said, ‘Oh cool, Instagram for doctors,'” Devito remembers. Now, he says he uses Figure 1—a free app through which medical professionals can post photos of interesting cases to educate peers, ask advice, or pose questions—for everything from advising medical students to learning about pulmonary embolisms from expert radiologists.

“I think it provides an entertaining educational experience, and it’s one that makes it professional social media a little bit,” Devito says. “It’s a good connection of different specialties, but it’s also an opportunity for people to come together in a casual but professional manner.”

That kind of community is precisely what Josh Landy, a doctor of internal medicine and critical care at Scarborough General Hospital in Toronto, was after when he cofounded the app, which now has 150,000 members and is used by 20 percent of American medical students. “It seems like the most interesting and complex cases happen at four in the morning when you feel the most lonely in the hospital,” Landy says. “Instead of sending one image to one other person and that being the end of the communication, now you’ve got people sending images to a community. Our goal, ostensibly, is to democratize or share the knowledge of healthcare.”

Landy got the idea for Figure 1 two years ago when he was researching the work habits of young physicians at Stanford and found that many of the doctors were sending pictures of their most interesting cases to co-workers and teachers. After ensuring that patient privacy couldn’t be breached—the app contains a patient consent form, and photos do not contain any identifying or confidential information—Landy used those observations to launch his business. “Using this photo sharing behavior that we saw young physicians doing,” Landy explains, “we wanted to take that idea and turn it into something where you could collect the images, create essentially an unlimited almanac of all the findings that are unusual in medicine, and create a resource where it can be learned from and discussed and indexed.”

Today, Landy says Figure 1’s extensive user base can be broken down into approximately one-third physicians, one-third nurses and nurse practitioners, and one-third assorted other types of healthcare professionals, all of whom come from a variety of different fields and experience levels. “It’s not just young physicians; we’ve got people who are trained and what they want to do is share the knowledge that they’ve earned and learned with people who are willing to learn,” Landy says. “You don’t stop learning new things until you retire or you die.”

And, Landy says, apps like Figure 1 change the healthcare system by spreading discoveries and wisdom far beyond the confines of one doctor’s social network or hospital. “What this does overall,” he says, “is create an opportunity to take the knowledge of healthcare, which is usually found out in single individuals or institutions, and blanket it easily across all healthcare professionals.”