I didn’t even know what crowdsourcing really meant until last week. When I was looking for a logo for a small business I’m launching, my uncle suggested I could save money using a company that “crowdsources.” You submit your specs, he said, and many people bid on the job. They may not all be pros, but for a price lower than what the pros charge you can choose something from the top of the heap of a large group if responds.
Wikipedia offers another example of this process. It offers lots of source material for research that has been contributed by the masses, not by the pros. The information is not necessarily reliable, of course. (I only use it to satisfy idle curiosity, never to research the articles I write.)
Financial crowdsourcing seeks money for such things as investments in creative projects or emergency expenses due to house-burnings or serious medical crises. While not everyone believes in it, crowdsourcing seems here to stay.
But can it work for medical care? Take the fairly young CrowdMed. Although some of its “MDs,” or “Medical Detectives,” are doctors, it is not the traditional professional opinion of one or more physicians you’re getting, but a diagnosis from the collective wisdom of a very large group.
CrowdMed founder and CEO Jared Heyman claims there are 13,000 known diseases, so chances that your own doc knows the symptoms of them all, or even the names, are slim at best. If you present your symptoms to a huge group of people who consider themselves health pros of one kind or another, the chances are that they’ll look familiar to someone.
Part of the site’s success lies in incentives to patients and MD both; another part is the way the symptoms and diagnoses are collected and processed. People trying out CrowdMed have sought a diagnosis and cure for their ills, sometimes for years and at great expense. The average patient has had eight years of illness, says CrowdMed, has consulted eight, twelve or more physicians, and has spent about $50,000 in getting second, third and fourth opinions on their maladies.
Coming to CrowdMed, they fill out a comprehensive health form that includes a detailed description of their symptoms and several essays on aspects of their illness. They are assigned a pseudonym. The state or country where they live is public record on the site, but otherwise the process is anonymous.
The so-called Medical Detectives — there are close to 3,000 worldwide, according to the company — scan capsule summaries of each patient, complete with age, case number, pseudonym and a list of symptoms. The “MDs” then bookmark those they feel they may have expertise with and start brainstorming.
The MDs who review your case may be scientific researchers, recovering patients, medical students or residents, and doctors both active and retired. Some may have no medical education, but may be knowledgeable about rare conditions because of their own or a family member’s experience with it.
Not just any interested mystery-solver is accepted. An online application process before they come on board requires credentials and documentation of expertise. CrowdMed purports that its Medical Detectives have solved more than 400 mysteries and are “a hundred times more efficient than the U.S. medical system.” A survey of patients found that 78 percent say they received accurate results.
The process used to select and diagnose cases is called a “patented prediction market system,” which amasses the MDs’ “bets” in a virtual stock market. Each MD is allotted a certain number of points. Since every diagnosis costs them a certain number of the points, they have to be thoughtful about what they spend them on. This minimizes too-hasty diagnoses.
Diagnoses are public. They are voted up or down by other MDs — which also affects their ratings. CrowdMed considers open discussion of cases among the MDs part of reason for the success of the process. “Crowds are most wise when they have discourse and debate,” Heyman has been quoted as saying.
The MDs are rewarded for good performance. More accurate predictions bring them closer to the top of a list. If they provide an accurate diagnosis that leads to a cure, the grateful patient may offer them money (otherwise the cost for a patient is a refundable $50), which they may keep or donate to charity. CrowdMed retains 10 percent of that as its fee. The site hopes that the insurance companies will get on board and participate at some point, realizing cost savings for a diagnosis that takes weeks instead of years of doctor visits.
Where did the inspiration for CrowdMed come from? Heyman’s college-age sister fell ill with a mysterious bunch of symptoms that could not be diagnosed. Heyman submitted her case to the market prediction system he had in place at his previous company, Infosurv. Two weeks later there was a diagnosis of a rare disease. She was cured when she wore a hormone patch for a month.
Jared Heyman started CrowdMed in 2013, backed by $2.4 million through Y Combinator. Users and providers, patients and MDs now come from a couple of dozen countries. The company claims not to be diagnosing or treating illness, but merely arming patients with information to bring to their own doctors — much in the way someone might research their condition on the Internet before a doctor’s appointment, but with more backing from more people.
There is appeal in the process of mystery-solving. Witness sales of mystery novels and cinematic thrillers with complex plots. We love to unravel knots, clean everything up, create solutions to complex problems. In this lies the appeal of CrowdMed. If they could just do this to diagnose our cars …
And the logo for my small business? I ended up designing my own.
Read more about health issues from a local perspective on Ulster Publishing’s healthyhv.com