Unless you’ve made the well-tempered decision to appear on Botched, you assume what goes on between you and your doctor doesn’t leave the examination room… right? Turns out, random people might be getting an up-close look at your embarrassing rashes and suspect moles, thanks to a free app called Figure 1.
Basically Instagram for the medical community, doctors post photos of their patients’ weird and gross ailments. The app is barely three years old, has over 1 million users in 190 countries, and averages about 10,000 users per hour. And according to its latest stats, over 65% of medical students in North America are users.
One physician’s assistant we spoke with, who wished to remain anonymous, told us she’s on the app daily, just slightly less often than her Instagram feed. She uses it to keep up with the latest news in her field and get a look at interesting cases. What kind of “interesting” cases? Growths, rashes, broken limbs, unusual injuries, and all manner of things that have been removed from the body (tumors, cysts, etc.) are among the most common posts.
It’s not just for fun; it helps doctors diagnose unusual cases
Figure 1 isn’t just a place where doctors gawk at your fascinating maladies. Essentially, it functions like one giant and ongoing post-graduate class for practicing (and soon-to-be) doctors, who get to check out all the crazy stuff their cohorts are working on around the world — the sort of stupefying cases that don’t make the textbooks.
The app lets you “follow” specific medical fields and interests, and doctors chime in with advice on tricky cases. Users can also “page” certain specialized experts when they share a photo. For example, if you’re an ER doctor with a patient whose X-rays are presenting an unusual heart reading, you could page cardiologists, and it’ll ping them with an alert to check out your photo. This function alone can end up being a lifesaver when dealing with mysterious ailments, especially if the medical personnel in a given region is limited like, say, on a boat.
You can download it, but only doctors and med students can post
Any old schmo, including yours truly, is free to download the app and browse the unending steam of oddities, but Figure 1 is, first and foremost, a community for medical professionals. To sort the voyeurs from the pros, the app has a user verification system much like Twitter’s — complete with the official blue check mark and all. To get verified, Figure 1’s team crosschecks your personal info against a series of databases to ensure you are in fact a licensed healthcare professional or student in a healthcare program. Only verified users can post pics or make comments.
What if a photo of you ends up on the app?
Before you freak out and call your doctor, know that if you are on the app, your identity is fully protected. To maintain patient privacy, every photo that’s uploaded is reviewed by the app’s team of moderators to verify that it doesn’t contain any identifying details (tattoos, face, location, etc.) before it’s published. If it doesn’t meet the approval criteria, it doesn’t go up — simple as that. The app also has some built-in tools — including an automatic face-blocker — that make it easy for users to blur out details, and if any image is flagged for potentially identifying someone, Figure 1 immediately and “securely” destroys it.
Since patient consent laws differ around the world (and even from state to state), the app also has a built-in “tap, type, and sign” consent form where doctors must first get approval from patients before taking any photos. Theoretically, that means any photos that end up posted to the app are there with the patient’s approval.