Crowd Sourcing Opens Financial and Clinical Doorways

Crowd sourcing in medicine is nothing new; it has been around for hundreds of years. What? You've never heard of it?

Crowd sourcing in medicine is nothing new; it has been around for hundreds of years.

What? You’ve never heard of it?

Well, you’re certainly familiar with grand rounds, right? In concept, that’s the essence of crowd sourcing, 21st century style.

“I would imagine it goes back even to ancient Greek times, where medical experts would pool together trying to solve a perplexing case,” explains Jared Heyman, CEO of CrowdMed. “From an academic perspective, you could say that crowd sourcing is very old history in medicine.”

Today, however, the concept has been taken to a much different level of sophistication. And the Internet has opened it up to a much wider audience.

Collective Wisdom

CrowdMed taps into the collective wisdom of alternative medical experts — nurses, medical students, former patients, even retired physicians — through a unique online platform. In effect, patients can consult with hundreds of what CrowdMed calls “medical detectives” in an attempt to better understand mysterious and sometimes baffling medical conditions.

The platform is built on prediction market technology, where every diagnosis is treated like a stock. And the price of that stock, allocated in points by the medical detectives based on the suggestions they believe to most likely be correct, is tracked by CrowdMed and ultimately translated into a probability that is assigned to the suggestions.

“For example, a patient might get 30 diagnostic suggestions, but when we look at the consensus, the opinion of our community, as judged by their point allocations, we might identify there’s only 2 or 3 of those that actually appear to be likely,” Heyman explains. “So it really helps the patient and their physician focus on only likely suggestions.”

The model is hierarchical in nature, where physicians and other practitioners depending on credentials have a greater influence on the system.

Surprising Support

How do patients feel about getting medical recommendations from, well, perfect strangers? According to the CrowdMed Medical Trust Census, a survey of 1,500 Americans on their attitudes toward traditional and nontraditional medical diagnosis, the vast majority are interested in consulting others who are not necessarily practicing physicians.

For example, the survey found that 73% of Americans would trust a nurse to suggest a diagnosis. Another 62% would trust a medical student, and 74% would trust an alternative medicine practitioner. But the biggest eye-opener, says Heyman, was that 87% of respondents would trust a former patient with related symptoms.

“We did not see that coming,” he admits. “Most of us had the mindset that patients will only trust their doctor to give them medical advice. And the system is kind of set up that way, where physicians have the most influence in the system. But even if it’s another patient who doesn’t have any medical credentials at all, they’re okay with hearing that opinion.”

That doesn’t mean that physicians are pushed to the background. On the contrary, CrowdMed is a method for patients to obtain additional information from a wide range of sources and share it with their physician.

“It’s impossible for any one physician to know all of the 13,000 diagnoses that exist,” Heyman says. “But if you have a crowd of people solving the problem, it’s much more likely that someone will have the insight that can lead to the correct diagnosis.”

Financial Implications

With the shift in health care toward outcomes-based reimbursement — reducing costs and improving outcomes — financial incentives are changing. According to Heyman, this is where CrowdMed’s crowd sourcing approach can ultimately help solve cases faster and more cost-effectively.

“We have mass efficiencies in terms of time and costs versus the traditional system of having a patient kind of bounce from specialist to specialist until they obtain the right diagnosis and treatment plan,” Heyman explains. “We’re looking to form partnerships right now with the organizations that can benefit most from the financial benefits we provide: employers, insurers, and ACOs.”

There are also financial incentives for physicians. At present, to accommodate for HIPAA privacy regulations, all cases submitted on CrowdMed’s platform are done directly by patients.

“But we’d love to have physicians refer patients to our site if they’d be a good fit, and then conversely, to act as medical detectives and join our site as case-solvers,” Heyman says. “We have about $40,000 worth of cash reward offers that are currently active on the site.”

The way it works is patients can offer rewards when they submit their case. Some, Heyman says, are as high as $2,000 per case.

“Physicians can compete against their peers to show that they’re a brilliant case-solver,” Heyman says. “But a lot of physicians tell us they like participating because it lets them get back to why they got into medicine in the first place: to just help patients.”