Online crowdsourcing is a means to harness the combined knowledge of the crowd in order to arrive at solutions. It is understandable how crowdsourcing for medical diagnosis and advice came into being. Medicine in our current day is extremely specialized. There are many thousands of conditions and diseases, and doctors no longer have the comprehensive medical knowledge to recognize everything.
As reported in an article on Med Gadget, Jared Heyman, founder of the CrowdMed online medical crowdsourcing platform, claims that by the time the average patient comes to his site, he or she has seen 8 doctors during 6 years of illness and incurred more than $50,000 in medical expenses in an effort to have the condition correctly diagnosed and treated. Mr. Heyman also claims an 80% success rate for the accuracy of the diagnosis and treatment suggestions his site provides.
Nevertheless, there may be dangers associated with medical crowdsourcing. According to an article on Popular Science, the advice patients receive may not be accurate or even professional. The article states that CrowdMed patients pay a subscription fee to post their case histories and medical data anonymously on the site, after which “Medical Detectives” read the cases and interact with the patients directly. The site then uses patented methods to filter the input and produce a report for the patient, highlighting the top diagnosis and treatment suggestions from the highest rated Medical Detectives.
The problem is that these high-ranking Medical Detectives could be qualified physicians (who, nevertheless, have not personally examined the patient) or just average people with no medical credentials whatsoever. In the CrowdMed platform, Medical Detectives are ranked according to points they are awarded for contributing useful suggestions as to diagnosis and treatment, as reported by Popular Science. The article raises the question of whether CrowdMed’s platform could be construed as unauthorized practice of medicine.
Medical crowdsourcing does serve a purpose. HIT Consultant reports on a primary care physician who saved a young boy’s life by crowdsourcing on Sermo, a social networking site for doctors. The boy coughed up a branch-like mass that the physician did not recognize. Instead of waiting for lab results, the doctor posted a picture on Sermo, requesting insight from specialists and colleagues. Because of the diagnostic and treatment suggestions he received from other doctors, the physician promptly referred his patient to a cardiologist, who treated the young boy within two days and saved his life.
The situation described above involves doctors crowdsourcing from other doctors – not just any medically untrained individual. CrowdMed may provide a valuable service presenting diagnosis and treatment options in the form of suggestions only. Patients do need to be informed and have some input and control over their own bodies. Unfortunately, however, some patients may take these online suggestions as a valid medical diagnosis and advice. For valid medical care, it is important to consult with your own qualified physician with a hands-on, in-person, thorough medical examination.