Doctors sharing medical images via mobile app

Instagram may be a popular medium for consumers to share photos with friends and family, but an app for mobile devices is now enabling physicians to share medical images in a very similar way. The app, called Figure 1, allows doctors to share interesting photos of medical conditions and in the process is building a valuable crowdsourced image library for healthcare professionals. 

Figure 1 users can, for instance, search a library of medical images by anatomy or within specific specialties, including ones such as palliative medicine and psychiatry that don't necessarily lend themselves easily to a visual format. Available as a free download on the iTunes App Store, Figure 1 is the brainchild of Joshua Landy, M.D., a Toronto, Ontario-based critical care physician, who was just interviewed by Scope, a blog produced by Stanford University School of Medicine. 

"One of the unexpected benefits of Figure 1 for me is that it takes the sometimes lonely practice of medicine and makes it a more communal experience," Landy says in the article. "At any time, I know that I can connect with people in similar circumstances who are focused on solving similar problems in healthcare…If the image would help somebody else in a similar experience, then I think it's an appropriate and beneficial medical image."

Going forward, Landy said he'd like to see Figure 1 include more photos "showing what happens under the microscope" with toxicology and other laboratory-based categories of images. "So much of medicine happens on a smaller scale than we appreciate," he said. "Ultimately, we have a mandate to document the entirety of medicine and its visual representations, so there are likely to be many more categories added." 

In addition, Landy recently spent time at Stanford as a visiting scholar, working with anesthesiologist Alex Macario, M.D., and conducting a survey of mobile device use in medical students and residents. Their survey found that 60 percent of physicians were exchanging patient care-related photos and text messages, and 45 percent acknowledged using their device as a medical reference, textbook, or as a patient care-related study aid.

"One conclusion we reached was that different specialties have different content and application needs when it comes to smart device apps," writes Landy. "Some physicians, like neurologists, will use photo-sharing and text messages to communicate; others, like internists, will use reference apps to look up drug doses and side effects; some surgeons use anatomy teaching apps to help educate patients." 

In related news, a recent article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research provided the results of Swiss study to determine the effects of different synchronous smartphone-based modes of communication, such as speech only, speech and images, as well as speech, images and image annotation (guided noticing) of visually and verbally represented medical knowledge. Forty-two medical students in a master's program at the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland participated in the study. 

"The results show (1) the value of annotation functions for digital and mobile technology for inter-clinician communication and medical informatics, and (2) the use of guided noticing (the integration of speech, images, and image annotation) leads to significantly improved knowledge gains for visually represented knowledge," conclude the authors. "This is particularly valuable in situations involving complex visual subject matters, typical in clinical practice."

To learn more:
- read the interview