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Using crowdsourcing to diagnose medical mysteries

Frustrated by inconclusive tests, strange symptoms and a lack of answers from their health-care providers, some patients have turned to the online community for answers about perplexing illnesses. And a new web-based tool, called CrowdMed, aims to make it even easier to diagnose medical mysteries. The New Scientist reports

Anyone can join CrowdMed and analyze cases, regardless of their background or training. Participants are given points that they can then use to bet on the correct diagnosis from lists of suggestions. This creates a prediction market, with diagnoses falling and rising in value based on their popularity, like stocks in a stock market. Algorithms then calculate the probability that each diagnosis will be correct.

In 20 initial test cases, around 700 participants identified each of the mystery diseases as one of their top three suggestions.


The goal is to help people who come down with any of around 7000 "rare diseases" as defined by health agencies in Europe and the US. In Europe alone, 30 million people have a rare disease, 40 per cent of whom either go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed at some point.

As the popularity of using the Internet to answer health questions grows, it will be interesting to see how services such as CrowdMed, and search engines like FindZebra, even further redefine the doctor-patient relationship.

Previously: The importance of curation and communities when crowdsourcing clinical questions, New search engine designed to help physicians and the public in diagnosing rare diseases, Report shows 35 percent of U.S. adults turn to the Internet to diagnose a medical condition, Dr. Google: Threat or menace? and Patient self-diagnosis: From the browser to the exam room
Photo by Ryan Brooks

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