Backed by Canadian and U.S. investors including Union Square Ventures, known for its early investments in Twitter and Tumblr, Figure 1 has been dubbed “Instagram for doctors.” The Toronto-based start-up has eclipsed one million users, and with the addition of features like private messaging and a ‘paging case' that sends alerts to verified specialists, Figure 1 is developing into much more than a photo sharing app for doctors. Invest in Ontario sat down to talk with Figure 1 co-founder, Dr. Joshua Landy.

“Figure 1 is a case sharing network that spans the globe, and hopefully in a year or two we'll evolve into a network that is helping to deliver healthcare to millions of people,” says Landy. He points to his recent ‘Ask Me Anything (AMA)' on Reddit, which explains why ‘Instagram for doctors' is an inaccurate description of his company's platform.

Landy is a Canadian Internist and Critical Care Medicine Specialist, who completed his M.D. at the University of Western Ontario and now practises at The Scarborough Hospital in Toronto. He initially conceived Figure 1 as a collection of online photos that could complement medical textbooks, the idea having come to him during a research appointment at Stanford University.

What about security and patient privacy?

“I attended Stanford as a visiting scholar a few years ago, researching how students used their smartphones for medical education,” Landy explains. “I found medical students were using their smartphones to share images of cases and document medical findings. In fact, my research estimated that medical professionals across North America were sharing cases by email, Facebook, text message, etc. tens of thousands of times per day –and they did so without paying proper attention to security and privacy protection.”

“I knew there had to be a better, more secure way to share photos where learning could take the main stage,” says Landy. “When I returned to Toronto, I met with some friends to chat about the idea, and those two friends, Dr. Gregory Levey and Richard Penner, became co-founders of what is now Figure 1.”

Landy explains how Figure 1 has met the need of medical professionals as a case sharing social media platform. “First, you have to understand why it's necessary to share information. We are dealing with patients that have multi-system organ diseases. And doctors are often spread thin across a hospital.” Sharing medical cases via smartphone is the best way to communicate vital information quickly and effectively, Landy explains. “What we have done is provided a platform where doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can learn and assist one other, without compromising protected health information.”

From right to left, Co-founders of Figure 1: Dr. Joshua Landy, Dr. Gregory Levey and Richard Penner.
From right to left, Co-founders of Figure 1: Dr. Joshua Landy, Dr. Gregory Levey and Richard Penner.

“We don't have to worry about hackers or any other data breaches, because patient information is stripped before it is uploaded to Figure 1,” says Landy. “We offer several tools, including an automatic face-blocking algorithm that removes faces. When someone uploads a photo, there are instructions that appear on the screen. Tools enable users to erase any kind of private information by simply dragging their finger across dates, names, tattoos, etc. or, you can simply crop it out. Finally, a moderator manually reviews and approves every single photo before they are uploaded. Our moderators are working around the clock.”

Figure 1 promotes continual learning among medical professionals in 190+ countries

Figure 1 serves approximately 3 million photos to its users on a daily basis. Its 60,000+ visits per day come from medical professionals spanning the globe. “Our population of users does skew younger, but it's not just younger medical professionals that use Figure 1,” says Landy. “We have plenty of retired physicians using the platform as a way of keeping up with what they are missing in clinical medicine.”

Figure 1's expansion plans include both Spanish and Portuguese versions to serve the Latin American and South American markets, and the Figure 1 team is currently scoping out a larger office space. Asked whether the company's growth might see them leaving Toronto, Landy answers bluntly.

“To be honest, I don't think we would be able to afford Silicon Valley. Salaries, rent – they are all at a premium in a place like Silicon Valley. But our team is happy here, and we are happy with our team. Toronto has quite a vibrant start-up scene, and we are a part of a community. We are staying here.”

Learn more about Ontario's Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector

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