Should You Harness “Crowd Wisdom” to Solve Your Medical Mystery?

A new medical website is harnessing “crowd wisdom” to diagnose the medical conditions of patients that have eluded their personal physicians for years. “Crowd wisdom” is a concept that states that large groups of non-experts can often be smarter than individual experts, as long as the right mechanisms are in place to aggregate their collective wisdom. In fact, “crowd wisdom” has been used by Wikipedia to build their encyclopedia, and by Google to create their search engine. The concept was written about in detail by James Surowiecki in his book The Wisdom of Crowds.

The website, CrowdMed, was founded by Jared Heyman, who reportedly nearly lost his sister to a medical mystery that took three years, 24 doctors, and over $100,000 in medical bills to diagnose. Her condition was finally diagnosed by the collaboration of a large, interdisciplinary team of experts who reached a consensus-based diagnosis. This collaborative approach led to the development of CrowdMed, which connects patients to medical detectives who work together to solve these hard-to-diagnose medical mysteries.

According to CrowdMed, its medical detectives include medical students, retired physicians, nurses, physician assistants, chiropractors, scientists, naturopaths, and regular folks who enjoy solving medical mysteries. As of December 2014, CrowdMed’s medical detective community had the following characteristics: 52 percent male and 48 percent female; 66 percent work or study in medicine (across 32 job titles or specialties); an average age of 36; represent 22 countries; and 69 percent are from the United States.

The average CrowdMed patient has been sick more than eight years, has consulted at least eight doctors, and has incurred over $55,000 in medical bills. CrowdMed claims to bring these patients closer to a correct diagnosis in less than two months through the use of its patented prediction market algorithm which assigns probabilities to each diagnostic or solution suggestion offered by its medical detectives, based on their previous performance. CrowdMed contends that approximately 80 percent of their patients reported their top diagnostic or solution suggestion to be accurate, and over 50 percent say that CrowdMed results have brought them closer to correct diagnosis or cure. Compared to the traditional medical practice, CrowdMed claims that, on average, it produces helpful diagnostic or solution insights up to 50 times faster, and at 300 times less cost.

There are various reasons for its success, but CrowdMed believes that the success of their prediction market algorithm comes down a simple matter of incentives and engagement. Because their medical detectives have something to win or lose depending on their performance, this causes them to be more engaged and invested in their choices.

Here is how it works. When patients submit their case to CrowdMed, they can choose a free case submission option, or one of three pre-paid packages: Lite ($99), Standard ($299), or Premium ($499). Patients can also offer additional compensation to help attract the interest of more and higher quality medical detectives. The packages provide for 30, 60, or 90 days on the site, respectively. CrowdMed sends notifications to their patients at the end of the 30 to 90 day period, giving the patient the chance to extend the case for $99 per month.

Then, once their case is closed, the patient has 30 days to consult with his or her physician to select the best diagnostic and solution suggestions received from CrowdMed. CrowdMed then divides the compensation to those medical detectives who contributed to the best diagnosis or solution suggestion, as determined by the patient or their physician.