Tough Case? Now You Can Crowdsource Your Medical Diagnosis (Podcast)

imagesCrowdMed brings together Medical Detectives (many are retired physicians) and patients with hard to diagnose conditions on a platform that incorporates a “patented prediction market system” that collects bets and develops a list of the most likely diagnoses and solutions.

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When I was in training, we discussed difficult cases in Resident’s Report or at Grand Rounds.  Once I was out in practice, I got help by looking stuff up in books (remember them?) or calling in a consultant or two.  For some cases – the really hard ones – this is simply not enough brain power to get to the correct diagnosis quickly.  For rare diseases or unusual presentations of common diseases, workups can be protracted.

The Founder’s Story

Jared Heyman knows this all to well.  His sister went from a young healthy teen to someone who had to drop out of college because of depression and a fatigue so profound she could only watch TV or play solitaire.  She would also wake up several times a night with nightmares and cold sweats. Eventually she became suicidal.

Over the course of 3 years, she saw 16 different medical specialists (all seen individually) racked up $100,000 in medical bills to no avail.  They couldn’t figure it out.  She was what you really don’t ever want to be – a tough case.  Finally, the diagnosis was made.  It had a rare disease that only affects 15,000 females.  She was treated and is doing fine now, but her story inspired her brother to do something to help other people like her.

Jared Heyman founded CrowdMed to crowdsource medical diagnoses.  That’s right, he designed a platform to bring together people with difficult to diagnosis conditions with folks he calls Medical Detectives – people who want to help solve the puzzle.  I had a chance to interview Jared on TDWI on the Radio this week.  In preparation for the interview, I signed up to be a Medical Detective myself.

Medical Detectives

Many of the Medical Detectives are retired allopathic physicians, but some are in active practice and some are naturopaths.  You don’t have to be a physician to be a Medical Detective.  You just have to be motivated to help solve the patient’s problem.  Once you sign up, you are oriented to the site by doing a few test cases.  The first one I tried out was so complicated that I had to google the symptoms, look up some of the more arcane tests he had had performed.  I also read all the questions and answers from the other Medical Detectives as well as the patients.  I then came up with a couple of diagnoses (mainly by picking ones other detectives had chosen for what they described as compelling reasons).  The last step is to assign probability to them by assigning them some of my points.

Jared told me that CrowdMed’s “patented prediction market system” collects the bets and develops a list of the most likely diagnoses and solutions.  He doesn’t have any formal pilots or studies to validate his outcomes yet, but he said that the feedback they have from patients who have participated is that the crowdsourced diagnoses were correct 80% of the time.

Crowdsourcing Other Complex Problems

It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.  There are instances of application of crowdsourcing to solve complex problems in other fields. One interesting example is the gaming software site, Foldit (whose tagline is “Solve Puzzles for Science”). Nature Outlook reports on the use of Foldit to solve a protein folding problem.  Here is how they described it:

“Following the failure of a wide range of attempts to solve the crystal structure of M-PMV retroviral protease by molecular replacement, we challenged players of the protein folding game Foldit to produce accurate models of the protein. Remarkably, Foldit players were able to generate models of sufficient quality for successful molecular replacement and subsequent structure determination. The refined structure provides new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs.”

If you would like to listen to the inverview with Jared Heyman, CLICK HERE.

Patricia Salber MD, MBA (@docweighsin)
Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the founder and host of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also the CEO of Health Tech Hatch, the sister site of TDWI that helps innovators tell their stories to the world. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.

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