Is there any aspect of our lives that the web cannot touch and change for the better? If there are any, they are a dwindling few. These days, there are more and more people waiting for us in cyberspace, ready to help out, when we get ill: crowds of different kinds are now gathering online around healthcare and its affects.
It’s no surprise that this is happening. Traditionally, health has been expensive, as much for developers of products and devices as for patients and end-users. This makes it a likely subject around which crowds might form and find ways to bypass the costs normally associated with healthcare. This is especially true of getting diagnosis for rare diseases, where the knowledge of one doctor – if anything less than encyclopaedic – is no match for the pooled knowledge and experience of a collective.
Below is a run-down of three online communities that are making a splash in the healthcare world. They are quickly maturing and making a substantial difference to people’s lives. Check them out!
The most trying aspect of suffering from a disease or illness is not the costs of care, but rather fear of the unknown, doubt and loneliness. Sufferers can struggle to find understanding from friends or even the information they need from doctors. But now, there is an online community to bring sufferers together and fill the gaps in data or companionship that patients experience in their local environment.
PatientsLikeMe provides an environment and an impressive array of features that bring patients together and help to make the daily experience of illness more familiar and easier to deal with. It is in the truest sense a community – through the wiki-style “symptoms” and “treatments” pages that everyone can contribute to, the searchable community and a well-organized forum, patients of almost any disease can inform, assist and support each other.
The data that patients upload is also used for research. With people offering a wealth of information and regular data on their condition and symptoms, researchers can access far more data by plugging in to this site than they could by the resources of their own research program. So in addition to the immediate and regular help available, Patients Like Me could hold the key to a cure in the future. In a number of ways, this community is transforming people’s lives.
This site was set up to speed up diagnosis of rare conditions and to lower its costs. It tackles the basic problem that someone’s local doctor can’t know all the diseases in the world. Rather than pay enormous sums visiting multiple doctors and surgeries, the platform allows the crowd to try solving the case. Anyone can get involved, regardless of background. The site relies on the wisdom of a crowd emerging when it is organized in a certain way – CrowdMed achieves this by giving participants (or “medical detectives”) points that they can use to “bet” on possible diagnoses in each case, for the chance of winning more points if they predict correctly. By setting up the community in this way (i.e. by creating a market for predictions), the number points a detective “invests” on a diagnosis reflects his/her confidence in their prediction. A proprietary algorithm analyses people’s investing behavior to determine the most likely diagnosis.
The model has proven very successful, and has saved over $6,000,000 in medical fees to date, by solving cases for free, without need to pay doctors’ fees.
Slightly more upstream from the patient, MedStartr is aimed at getting new medical projects off the ground, if they achieve enough bitesize funding from supporters. It’s the first crowdfunding platform focusing specifically on healthcare. It hosts, among others, projects addressing specific conditions, health information technologies, healthy lifestyles and even “patient power tools”, which aim to educate or make healthcare more widely available. Projects appear on the dashboard, and have profiles explaining who created the project, what problem they solve, and how they will spend contributions. These projects are live on the site for a fixed period, and must reach a funding milestone by the deadline in order to receive any of the promised funding. Investors are given a range of funding options, and get something in return for different contributions (e.g. $10 will get you a mention from "Send Mammogram" on one of their social media accounts).
The site also runs events where potential investors can meet Medstartr entrepreneurs, so that people can get a concrete grasp of the projects they’re thinking of funding. This site brings together a crowd online and offline!
Authored by Ben Miller, Business Development - Custom Challenges