Medical image sharing network Figure 1 is set to gain more traction in the global online diagnostic space after receiving a future-proofing $10 million in investment funding to propel it into new ground.
 
With the platform - described as 'Instagram for doctors' - infiltrating the Australian healthcare system as part of a stellar growth spurt, Figure 1 plans to use the funds to harness AI and help it gain a foothold into medical schools.
 
There are tens of thousands of cases discussed on Figure 1 each day within a range of specialities. A case involving chest pain can be discussed by a cardiologist, a nurse practitioner, a cardiac surgeon, a paramedic and a medical student within minutes. Emergency and internal medicine physicians have taken to the platform in droves.
 
For the co-founder of the Canada-based company, Dr Joshua Landy, the intention of Figure 1 is to connect healthcare professionals and democratise medical knowledge in an efficient and privacy-aware way. Even still, the rapid take-up off the platform since its launch in 2013 has caught him by surprise.
 
“Last year our community reached 1 million healthcare professionals and we are now well into the millions. Experiencing such rapid growth has been a surreal experience. I think Figure 1’s growth shows that medicine isn’t content to be left behind in today’s world of technological innovation and is ready for more,” Landy told Healthcare IT News Australia.
 
Now available in more than 190 countries, with institutions such as Doctors Without Borders, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the BMJ signed up, the app has helped treat patients in Syrian refugee camps, the Peruvian rainforest and fishing boats off the coast of Alaska in real time, according to Landy.
 
“The Figure 1 community helped a nurse in Haiti treat a newborn who was presenting with elevated lesions. With no access to laboratory testing or other specialists, the nurse was worried about the baby’s health and whether this would impact the other babies in the facility. She shared the case on Figure 1 and within an hour more than 16,000 healthcare professionals had sprung into action. The condition was confirmed to be benign by a pediatrician in California, among many others, and the nurse was able to breathe a sigh of relief.”
 
Remote Australian settings can also benefit from tapping into the worldwide collaboration.
 
“An Australian dentist shared a case of an indigenous woman’s severe gum infection. Beyond sparking a global discussion on access to care and fresh produce, this case benefited from being shared with the Figure 1 community. Familiar with the patient’s presentation, a family medicine physician suggested acute myeloid leukemia as a possible differential diagnosis,” Landy said.
 
Simone Walters is a paediatric nurse at a major Melbourne teaching hospital who has used the platform for medical advice and also sees it as a learning tool for her interests in OBGYN, midwifery and trauma cases.
 
“It brings a large group of health care providers together with varying levels of expertise in one place, and allows them to consult with each other and bounce ideas and suggestions off each other for the management of simple and complex cases alike,” Walters said.
 
“The app allows you to target your audience by using the paging function. You can page cardiologists, dermatologists, orthopaedic surgeons, podiatrists, general medical doctors, almost anyone you can think of.”
 
Healthcare professionals use the app for free and so far Figure 1 hasn’t effectively monetised the platform but grand plans and investment partners come at a cost, which is why the company is introducing curated sponsored content.
 
“Through clearly labeled promoted cases, we are helping select partners to share targeted clinical content. For instance, we partnered with Shire to invite the world-renowned expert on Hunter syndrome to lead ‘Grand Rounds’ for the global healthcare community,” Landy said.
 
Converting a growth spurt into a long-term success story is where the real innovation will kick in for Landy and his co-founders Gregory Levey and Richard Penner.
 
Later this week the company will detail its AI plans at the International Congress on Electrocardiology in the US, including a feature that will extract data from ECGs for easier shareability and interpretation. Figure 1’s library of medical images could also be used in machine-learning research into the management of wounds and dermatological conditions.