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Crowdsourcing as the next health care solution

Kristen Fischer is a copywriter, author and journalist based in New Jersey. She is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and host on the monthly podcast, Freelance Radio. Learn more about Kristen at www.kristenfischer.com.

Websites that offer a second opinion

Is crowdsourcing a viable option to take charge of your health? Should you go online to share information or verify your doctor's diagnosis?
Photo credit: ballyscanlon/Photodisc/Getty Images

It seems that health care is always changing. In addition to a new health care platform in America, many people are also shifting the way they obtain medical advice.

Thanks to technology, crowdsourcing is now a popular option. Crowdsourcing means outsourcing an inquiry to an online community — in the case of health care, an inquiry would go to medical professionals.

"Groups hold far more knowledge collectively than any individual member, no matter how brilliant. With hundreds of minds working in parallel, groups can process information much faster," said Jared Heyman, CEO of CrowdMed. The website's Medical Detectives are physicians, medical students, health care professionals and regular people with expertise on a particular condition.

The service lets people who have typically spent thousands of dollars and seen numerous physicians who have yet to find a diagnosis get second opinions and information.

CrowdMed says it's not designed to replace doctors, however. It's merely a platform for people to get a second opinion or confirm their doctor's diagnosis. Patients don't pay doctors or other Medical Detectives on the website to resolve their matter, but many do reward the person who solve their cases — it's an incentive those who provide guidance. Users pay for each case that they post on CrowdMed if they offer a cash reward.

"Crowdsourcing health care cannot substitute doctors, but it can provide a valuable alternative source of information for those struggling with their health," Heyman said.

How crowdsourcing your health care works

After several dozen Medical Detectives offer feedback on a case, CrowdMed aggregates that information into a final report for the patient. Next, the patient can bring that report to their physician. Once that consultation is complete, the patient can report back on the website with the best answers they received. Medical Detectives who supported the best diagnostic and solution suggestions then split 90 percent of the Cash Reward that the patient offered, and the website takes a 10 percent commission.

Sickweather.com, another crowdsourcing website, offers another model — this one isn't for providing a diagnosis but instead gathers data using social networks. Users can track conditions, compare symptoms and look at viruses in a specific region. It's commonly used for more than 25 common conditions such as allergies and strep throat. Google Flu Trends is similar, monitoring flu activity based on user input.

PatientsLikeMe is another website that lets patients with particular diseases and conditions share and compare data. It pulls in revenue by selling user-reported data to partners such as drug companies. The platform also has its Open Research Exchange, which lets researchers conduct surveys based on data from community members. Webicina integrates social media for physicians to communicate, and it also lets patients find information on specific conditions via social networks such as Twitter along with podcasts. Other crowdsourcing innovations collect data from patient devices, so it goes beyond listing symptoms and providing real-life data.

The crowdsourcing idea is trickling down to medical schools as many are integrating it into their curriculum. The platform lets students solve challenges with real information instead of textbook cases, offering a new way to learn and collaborate with colleagues.

The privacy issue

Privacy regulations such as HIPAA don't apply to CrowdMed because the data is all patient-provided and patients consent to putting their information into the public domain.

"Everything that a patient submits online is made anonymous with an alias, and that patient only provides as much information about their case as they want to," Heyman said.

As for other crowdsourcing hubs, privacy is probably on the minds of everyone, which is why certain policies and practices are in place. Other initiatives are underway to explore ways to keep patient data protected.

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