Dr. Joshua Landy is envisioning a new way for doctors to learn from one another. A Toronto-based intensive care physician by trade, Landy is the co-founder of Figure 1, a "crowdsourced photo sharing app for health care professionals." Launched just two weeks ago, the iPhone app is already populated with images both clinically significant and arguably beautiful -- without even the benefit of a filter.
"There is a culture among physicians of sharing interesting findings, whether they're classic ones that we learn in medical school but rarely see, or they're just picture-textbook-perfect versions of things that we see day-to-day," Landy explained when I asked about the inspiration behind his idea. His vision is to take these things that are already being passed around via email or photo message -- and then subsequently lost -- and make them available to the wider medical community.
Once uploaded to the app, the images become public content (stringent privacy guidelines ensure that any potential patient identifiers are edited out). Landy envisions a sort of Wikipedia of medical images, "a curated free-access almanac of features of medicine" that anyone can contribute to, edit, or learn from. While the company isn't disclosing any numbers yet, Landy said usership is already "well into the thousands."
What Instagram does for daily life, Figure 1 does for medicine, allowing professionals to see through one another's eyes. Of course, what doctors, nurses, and surgeons see (and choose to share) often approaches what a layperson might think of instead as "horrifically gruesome." This may be in part due to selection bias: there's a lot of gore to be found just by scrolling through the images, from the leg of a pedestrian who had been struck by a car to the hand of someone whose diabetes went untreated.
*A note of warning: while nothing gratuitous is shown here, the images that follow (and in some cases, their backstories) get very graphic, very quickly.
Medical professionals can't always keep themselves from expressing their excitement over the things they come across. As Landy pointed out, "there's no professional way of saying 'I find this fascinating.'" The phrase users seem to be turning to so far is: "wow."
While the line might be hard to identify, images that seem to be posted merely for shock value are deleted. But a fascination with things that other people might find gross or funny is, arguably, what most separates those who go into medicine from the rest of us.
This is how everyone learns.