Can the Crowd Solve Medical Mysteries?

Carrie Arnold at PBS:

ScreenHunter_760 Aug. 22 20.49The Loops found themselves in purgatory. They had a diagnosis they didn’t believe, treatments that weren’t working, and a son that had been completely subsumed by his illness. If they could find out what was really wrong with their son, they believed, they could get him the help he so desperately needed. But no one could properly diagnose their son.

Jared Heyman knows the Loops’ frustration all too well. Several years ago, his younger sister was debilitated by an illness that no one could diagnose. Two years, nearly unspeakable agony, and half a million dollars in tests later, his sister finally got a diagnosis and treatment. “I knew there had to be a better way,” he says.

So Heyman set out to create that better way and started CrowdMed in 2013. The site allows patients to submit their cases to the site to be solved by a cadre of medical detectives from around the world. Heyman’s background in economics and the decade he spent as the head of a startup had given him an appreciation for the wisdom of crowds, which states that a large group of people tends to be smarter and more accurate than any single expert. What tricky diagnoses needed, Heyman realized, was a crowd of people doing their best to solve medical mysteries. Which is exactly what CrowdMed provides. He tested the concept by submitting his sister’s symptoms. Within three days, the site’s medical detectives had correctly identified her condition.

In the year since it began, CrowdMed has soared in popularity, with users in 21 countries around the world. Investors have also flocked to the project, including actor Patrick Dempsey (aka “Dr. McDreamy” on the television show Grey’s Anatomy), who recently pledged $1 million. The site’s promise, however, is tempered by concern from bioethicists and physicians alike, who worry about everything from privacy to medical errors.

More here.