Rare Illnesses, Diagnosed By The Crowd

CrowdMed, launched Tuesday, is one of several Web-based platforms that anyone can use to help diagnose mystery conditions.

What's the Latest Development?

On Tuesday, attendees at the TEDMed conference in Washington saw the launch of CrowdMed, a Web-based platform that, as its name implies, enlists the help of the public to solve difficult medical cases. It works by giving participants points that they can use to bet on one of a list of possible diagnoses. "This creates a prediction market, with diagnoses falling and rising in value based on their popularity...Algorithms then calculate the probability that each diagnosis will be correct." Eventually, the platform reveals the top three diagnoses, which the patient can then discuss with his or her doctor. Those who bet on the correct diagnosis receive more points to use with other cases.

What's the Big Idea?

CrowdMed is one of several platforms designed to help people who contract any of 7,000 or so "rare diseases" as commonly defined by American and European health agencies. Another new one, FindZebra, is a search engine that provides access to rare disease databases. Co-developer Radu Dragusin says that these platforms help bridge a gap between patients and clinicians: "[D]octors can't learn about all of these thousands of diseases with very low prevalence...It's very important to give [them] an aid."

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