Got a mystery illness? Online service crowdsources a diagnosis

doctor desk doctor's office health care
CrowdMed is like getting a second, third, fourth, fifth or more opinion at the same time.
Credit: Getty Images

Would you share intimate medical details with an anonymous group if they could help you finally diagnose a mysterious illness?

A new online service, CrowdMed, crowdsources difficult cases through a network of medical professionals: retired doctors, nurses and other “medical detectives” to help find answers to hard-to-diagnose medical conditions.

“We’ve been live for 15 months, and more than 50 percent of our patients tell us that their case was successfully solved,” says Jared Heyman, the founder of CrowdMed.

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.

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).

According to Heyman, cash compensation tends to attract more and better “medical detectives,” with 10 percent going to CrowdMed.

Once a case is submitted, it can take from 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 there’s no real substitute for a doctor seeing a patient in an office.

“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,” Zich says.

Most patients receive an accurate diagnosis from their doctor, he says. “Probably just 1 percent of cases result in multiple specialists and rack up large bills. Most people are able to be handled by one or two physicians.”



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