This story originally appeared on KERA Breakthroughs.
First year emergency medicine resident John Corker has just uploaded a photo of a fresh red and greenish wound on the top of a right foot.
“What you’re looking at here is a badly infected foot,” he says. “t’s a commentary on what can happen when patients don’t have good follow up.”
He put this photo on Figure 1 – an app that’s been called the Instagram for doctors. Sitting on a bench outside of Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Corker scrolls down below the image to reveal it was starred by a number of people, “which means they appreciated the image.”
It might seem like a strange thing to appreciate, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who have created an account on Figure 1. And most are doctors, like Corker, who post and review photos to learn about medical conditions and share the occasionally gruesome photo. The x-rays, lesions, tumors and gunshot wounds are categorized by anatomy and specialty. Corker says in the emergency room, access like this is invaluable.
“If I’m able to log on to Instagram or Figure 1 and see a picture of something that I learned about three years ago in medical school that I may see in the future,” Corker says, “That’s really helpful for my learning going forward.”
Unlike Instagram, Figure 1 requires users to remove all personal details – think faces or birthmarks – from the photos they post.
“The best way to keep a secret is not to have it,” says 34-year-old critical care doctor Joshua Landy. Landy co-founded Figure 1.
“We give them all the tools they need to remove any potentially private details form the photo,” Landy says. “There’s an automatic to block out faces, tools that let you block out name, date, tattoos, or other identifying marks that might be in the photo.”
And then, Landy, along with a small team reviews each image before giving the final go-ahead.
Now of course, doctors are supposed to ask for consent before snapping a photo of that amputated finger or bumpy rash…though it’s impossible to say everyone does because the consent form is not exactly mandatory. There’s a lot of variation in what counts as consent.
“We encourage all users to get consent, however they’re not restricted to using our consent form. They’re permitted to using the consent form from their jurisdiction. Some hospitals require it to be done on paper, and some require it to be using voices instead of just paper.”
In some specialties, like dermatology, doctors sharing photos is nothing new.
“And it’s becoming more commonplace,” says Dr. Seemal Desai. “Our specialty is very visual, we diagnose and treat based on seeing, feeling, and examining the skin. Looking for rashes, looking for color, abnormalities and so pictures inherently are a daily part of our practice.”
Desai is Founder of Innovative Dermatology in Plano. He shares images with colleagues using an app called Haiku. Haiku was created by the electronic medical record company Epic, and is really just for providers. Desai says the advantage of sharing photos on an app that’s more like social media, like Figure 1, is the instant access to a wide range of specialists.
“Because all different specialties are represented on the app, such as cardiology and ophthalmology, a lot of time these images are actually transcending more than one specialty so you can almost get like a multidisciplinary virtual consultation,” he says.
As medical file and photo sharing become ubiquitous, Desai has a few words of advice to doctors about to hit upload:
“Always keep in the back of your mind, ‘Is what I’m doing in the best interest of my patient?’ And ‘Is this going to help outcome of my patient?’ And if the answer is no, you don’t need to be involved in it.”
No matter how cool that close-up of green, glistening gallstones may be.