MERS on Figure 1–and What it Means

16 May 2014

When an X-Ray of a patient with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was uploaded to Figure 1 a few days ago, we were startled. Worldwide, there have been about 550 cases of the deadly virus, and it has only recently become prominent. So it surprised us how quickly an image was shared on Figure 1 by a healthcare professional working on one of those cases.

Our surprise quickly turned to reflection, though, as we realized that Figure 1 was playing a role in educating healthcare professionals about MERS and how it’s spreading. It was perhaps the most clear sign we have seen on Figure 1, not just of how our platform may evolve, but more importantly, of the real promise of mobile health.

What followed the posting of the MERS case on Figure 1 was a number of questions from healthcare professionals about what makes MERS distinct from other similar diseases, and updates about other patients with the virus. Of course, none of this is in-itself world changing, but it seems to us that these interactions point at the potential for mobile health’s future, both on Figure 1 and elsewhere.

Embracing the possibilities of being mobile means more than just repackaging healthcare websites for phones. It means designing tools to take advantage of the fact that healthcare professionals always have smartphones with them. Through these devices they can have continuous access to both their colleagues around the world and a steady flow of the latest global health information. It is amazing to think about what possibilities will soon emerge with the ability to aggregate health-related data in real time.

These aspirations guide the course on which we’re taking Figure 1, and seeing cases like the MERS case appear on our platform tells us that we are moving in the right direction. Healthcare professionals on Figure 1 are educating each other about this latest health trend at a faster rate than older methods of dissemination could hope to attain. They are moving information faster than the virus itself can move.