Why doctors should crowdsource your medical diagnosis

Crowdsourcing with big data could potentially be the best medical breakthrough of the 21st century

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When you visit a physician's clinic or office you often see their diplomas and certificates proudly displayed on their walls. They are posted to assure patients that their physician is an expert, educated, trained, and certified by credible institutions.

Source: Waldo Jaquith/Flickr

But what would make me feel more confident about my doctors' capabilities is a certification indicating that they can crowdsource their diagnosis of my medical issue with their peers, if necessary.

Doctors have long discussed perplexing patient problems with other physicians, often referring individuals to specialists to develop a diagnosis. However, these peer consultations have been limited by the personal connections of each medical practitioner and represent a relatively small pool of knowledge and expertise.

Many doctors understand this limitation and some have branched out on the Internet to solicit diagnostic advice from practitioners beyond their immediate circle of colleagues. Even the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine has a regular online feature asking readers to help diagnose mysterious medical conditions based on photographs editors post for review.

While I applaud these efforts, they fall far short of the potential value of medical crowdsourcing. What's needed is certified crowdsourcing based on big data. To get there, doctors need to have electronic health records (EHRs) and be able to pool the information in standard form.

EHRs are making progress in the United States. Surveys suggest more than half of doctors there have adopted them and the standards needed to share data. More importantly, those surveys indicate that three-quarters of the doctors who use them say EHRs improve a patient's treatment.

What I'd like to see is a certification that tells me that my doctor is not just using EHRs in his or her practice, but sharing the data (anonymous, of course) with others. I also want my physician using the EHR data from other physicians to improve diagnosis and treatment.

Imagine being able to leverage data from hundreds of thousands of physicians around the globe to determine the source of a set of symptoms in a patient with a certain profile and what treatments were the most effective. This combination of crowdsourcing with big data could potentially be the best medical breakthrough of the 21st century.

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