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ADVANCE Perspectives: Healthcare Information Professionals


Published December 10, 2015 10:59 AM by ADVANCE Perspectives

By Tamer Abouras


It’s always a bit curious to hear the ways some of us pine for a pre-technological world. While there’s no doubt the constant updates and new innovations can be a headache — who wants to have to learn something new every week? — and there is something disappointing about the way so many things have become digitized, the world these days is one of nearly pure imagination.


Startup culture, perhaps more than anything else, embodies this sentiment. What’s amazing is that there are still ideas left out there to be had, as it seems as though almost every one of our good concepts for apps have already been dreamt into at least partial existence in the form of a Kickstarter, a t-shirt and a catchy name.


Essentially, any thought you have to make the world a better, more convenient place has either been shared by someone else (who quite possibly has done something with it) or can be actualized thanks to the world of tech. And you also have to remember that it’s a target that’s always constantly moving forward at a rapid pace — what you lack this year might well emerge the next and help bring your plan to life.


You’ve even got presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump making vague assertions that Silicon Valley might be the key to winning military struggles against groups like ISIS. And despite their falling back on buzzwords and not fully grasping what the ultimate solution might look like, would anybody be that surprised if both ended up being right?

SEE ALSO: Mobile Device Use in Hospitals

The bottom line is technology hasn’t curtailed your ability to go outside, look up at the sky and dream; it’s actually expanded your ability to pursue that dream and see it through. So much so, in fact, that we now have largely replaced the typical “Is it possible?” question with “Is it marketable?”


Case in point: Figure 1. Marketed as “Instagram for doctors,” the HIPAA-compliant app pretty self-explanatorily allows healthcare professionals to “ … Share high-quality medical images organized by anatomy and specialty including X-Rays, MRIs, CAT scans, ECGs and EKGs for teaching purposes and to attain feedback from each other about possible diagnoses and treatments,” according to HIT Consultant.


With more than 500,000 users across over 100 countries, the Toronto-based startup recently announced that it has raised more than $9 million in total funding, so obviously something is working well. HIT Consultant mentioned that beyond just practicing doctors and medical professionals, “Medical and nursing students use Figure 1 as a study tool for preparing for the USMLE, NCLEX and other medical licensing exams.”


As Fusion senior writer Daniela Hernandez notes, however, in spite of the usefulness of essentially asking a worldwide forum of fellow docs about a wound or condition you’ve taken a picture of, the number of legal hoops that need to be jumped through in order to make the app HIPAA-compliant could spell its financial doom.


Said Hernandez, “The company strips uploaded photos of geolocation data and uses the same security standards to keep them safe that hospitals must use to safeguard medical records. It has easy tools for blacking out identifying information, like people’s faces or tattoos.”




“All these apps face similar obstacles: the potential legal toxicity of the information they’re making more sharable. In other industries — recommendation sites, social networking, even transportation — data is easy to come by. So companies like Yelp, Google, Facebook and Uber have been able to build empires on the shoulders of the masses. But healthcare is a thorny beast. Data is heavily protected, hard to come by and requires delicate treatment once amassed. These are considerations crowdsourcing services like Figure1, which are working from within the healthcare system, must take into account. That puts them at a disadvantage before they even get to the starting blocks.”

Said Dr. Bob Kocher, a partner at venture capital firm Venrock and a former special assistant to the President for healthcare on the National Economic Council, “The problem, though, is that Figure1 is totally unconnected,” which according to Hernandez means that it “ … Lacks any of the detailed patient history that would make Figure1 photos a really valuable medical resource. And that’s, again by design, because otherwise Figure1 could never legally get away with having doctors post images of patients.”

So there’s no question that Figure 1 is a cool app being used by lots of healthcare professionals to accomplish many great things. Unless it figures out a way out of its legal versus profitability paradox, however, it may soon be something you only see on #ThrowbackThursday.

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As a student I have seen and gone through the app Figure 1 before.  I know learning of how a situation can be handled can make a great difference in the life of the patient. But in the end what could be possible legal ramifications in the HIPAA guidelines are not followed? What if the physician holds on to the photograph on their personal device after it is shared?

Sandra Gerou, Student January 20, 2016 3:21 PM
Lansing MI

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About this Blog

    ADVANCE Editorial Staff
    Occupation: Editor
    Setting: ADVANCE for Healthcare Information Professionals
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