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Medical photo app meant for education is also a gore aficionado’s dream come true

Sharing between doctors is one thing, but Figure 1 makes it so any jerk with an iPhone can ogle at your medical photographs.


Kevin Morris


Posted on Jun 11, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 1:46 pm CDT

Figure 1, a kind of Instagram for doctors, greets you a little a differently than your average photo app.

“Sigmoid Volvulus!!!” screamed the caption to the first image I loaded up yesterday: A bulbous, twisting tube of blue-veined flesh.

It was easily one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen. The Internet told me I was looking at an obstructed, distended bowel–again, not exactly something you usually see when logging onto, say Instagram.

So it goes without saying that Figure 1, with its parade of ghoulish images of severed limbs, shattered skulls, and gangrenous body parts will not be marching to the top of Apple’s most popular apps list anytime soon. But its creator, Canadian intensive care doctor Josh Landy, is hoping it might save lives.

Figure 1 (named after the first piece of descriptive text beneath any medical image) works much like or any other social photo app, with just one major caveat: Though the app is free for anyone to use, only licensed medical professionals can upload photographs. The result is a searchable compendium of medical images loaded with acronym-laden doctor speak (#s1q3t3 and new #RBBB in 70F POD#3 THR” reads the caption beneath one image).

Ordinary folk like you and me who stumble into an ER with a bizarre or gruesome injury shouldn’t have to worry too much about our identity being revealed. The app forbids identifying material of any kind from appearing in photographs, and uses software that automatically detects faces in images and blurs them out.

The first image I saw when I loaded up Figure 1. Just be glad this is blurred.

Dr. Landy told the National Post:

There is no question in my mind, educating doctors saves lives…. Having someone who has easier, more efficient access to information, who learns something more about a patient they are currently seeing, is going to improve the care of that patient.

True, but at the same time–despite the privacy protections–one has to worry about the app becoming little more than gore-porn hub, where strangers from around the world gawk at your medical problems.

You might not mind a picture of your gangrenous penis (“Fournier’s Gangrene of the Penis,” as the condition is officially known–I’m learning already!) being shared discreetly among medical professionals. But the idea that any jerk with an iPhone can install this app and ogle at pictures of your wounds or weird diseases–well, that might just make many people a little uncomfortable, whether people can see your face not. Especially because any picture on Figure 1 is just a screen grab away from rising to the top of any number of Reddit forums devoted to gore (links are extremely NSFW) or any other gore site on the planet.

Even the captions, written by real doctors, seem to play up the app’s voyeuristic side. One image, for instance–an X-ray that shows a knife embedded in someone’s throat–is accompanied by the caption, “Self-inflicted stab wound!!”  The profligate dropping of exclamation points seems only to emphasize that the images exist for the pleasure of the people sharing them. 

Indeed, if my experience scouring through posts today is any indication, the typical attitude among the app’s early adopters is less about education than it is about shock value. But then again, I’m not a doctor. Pehaps I’m just ignorant of what “!!!” means in medical speak.

Photo by Yale Rosen/Flickr

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*First Published: Jun 11, 2013, 8:10 am CDT