05 August 2014

'Crowdsourcing' the answer to medical mysteries?

A new service, called CrowdMed, relies on retired doctors, nurses and other 'medical detectives' to help patients find answers to their hard-to-diagnose medical conditions.


For people plagued for years by mysterious illnesses, a new online service aims to help by "crowdsourcing" among medical professionals for a diagnosis.

The service, called CrowdMed (, relies on retired doctors, nurses and other "medical detectives" to help patients find answers to their hard-to-diagnose medical conditions.

Read: Electronic diagnosis under fire

$100,000 in medical bills

Jared Heyman, the founder of CrowdMed, told Reuters Health, "We've been live for 15 months, and more than 50 percent of our patients tell us that their case was successfully solved."

Heyman was inspired to launch CrowdMed after watching his sister suffer from a chronic undiagnosed medical condition and rack up nearly $100,000 in medical bills.

Today CrowdMed has nearly 2,000 active medical detectives. The company claims its approach has so far helped solve more than 200 unique cases out of some 400 submissions that some patients say have "stumped" their doctors for years.

Read: Chronic illness and quality of life

Patients remain anonymous. They pay a $50 deposit to submit a case; the fee is refunded after a case is closed. There's an option to pay $199 for help preparing a case for submission, and patients can offer compensation to draw more attention ($200 minimum).

Worries about accuracy

According to Heyman, cash compensation tends to attract more and better "medical detectives". Ten percent of that compensation goes to CrowdMed, Heyman said.

Once a case is submitted, it can take days to months to receive a CrowdMed report.

Patients who wish for their case to remain on CrowdMed for more than 30 days pay $99 per month. Patients can get refunds if they submit a letter from a physician stating that none of the diagnostic or solution suggestions were accurate.

But some physicians worry about the accuracy of CrowdMed. Dr. David Zich, for example, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said he believes "crowdsourcing" for a diagnosis could do more harm than good.

"If the patient isn't actually sitting in front of you, if you can't poke and prod and observe, then you may not be getting accurate information. I have seen a number of patients who have inaccurately described their issues and led nurses and medical students down a completely erroneous path," he told Reuters Health.

Read: Visiting your GP: Questions he/she will ask

Most patients, Zich said, will receive an accurate diagnosis from their doctor. "Probably just one percent of cases result in multiple specialists and rack up large bills. Most people are able to be handled by one or two physicians," he added.

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