It seems that venture capitalists are hungry for technology-based startups in the healthcare industry. The New York Times explains it this way: “the health care industry is both huge and technologically backward, and thus ripe for an assault with clever software and data-driven decision-making.”
Healthcare industry crowdsourcing: a prescription for change
The idea behind crowdsourcing is simple: casting a wide net to collect people's input and experience, usually via the Internet. The net can be cast narrowly to target a specific audience or broadly to gather input on a global scale.
For the healthcare industry, crowdsourcing is a prescription for change. It means proactively seeking patient input—something that has been missing from the industry’s more traditional R&D and marketing decision-making.
- Crowdsourcing can help identify solutions to research-related problems by drawing on the wisdom and experience of the online community. Research questions can be targeted to patients specifically or left wide open for anyone to respond.
- Crowdsourcing enhances the generation of novel ideas for exploration or research. Research questions generated via crowdsourcing may have the additional benefits of identifying the question’s relevance and the cohorts for study.
- Crowdsourcing is a vehicle for understanding what customers really want and need, as well as how they think. The industry—including providers, insurers, and pharmaceuticals—is highly competitive. It impacts every person’s life at one time or another. Therefore, knowing what customers want and need, and how they think creates key advantages both for the industry members and for patients.
Crowdsourcing data about a particular disease may generate new information about an aspect of that disease or its current treatment that may have seemed trivial or escaped notice before, but now takes center stage as a potentially fruitful line of study.
Another example: currently, researchers at universities and pharmaceuticals perform clinical trials that collect data before drugs and vaccines are developed and approved as medical treatments for the general public. Yet, no matter how comprehensive those clinical trials may be, the data set naturally is "experimental" and therefore limited. In a crowdsourcing scenario, researchers would be able to gather data continuously post-FDA approval from people on that treatment. This is the value of startup Iodine for consumers and for the industry: the benefits of continuous data collection once a treatment is being prescribed for the general public.
- The data may generate information that suggests improvements to a new treatment.
- The data also may generate information on treatment interactions and reactions.
- For established treatments, especially drugs, new data may generate information on “off the shelf” applications.
Additionally, crowdsourcing may help generate innovative ideas for novel medical treatments.
- Crowdsourcing is a low-cost, technology-driven method of staying in touch with patients—but it also is much more.
- Significantly, crowdsourcing is the ultimate communications and marketing tool for the industry: the more people there are who feel engaged via crowdsourcing, the more likely they are to have brand loyalty stemming from a feeling of partnership with a pharmaceutical company, hospital, or team of providers.
- Crowdsourcing is a practical and cost-effective approach, too. As CBS News reported, “From designing ad campaigns to vetting new product ideas to solving difficult R&D problems, chances are that people outside your company walls can help you perform better in the marketplace; they become one more resource you can use to get work done.”
Perhaps one day each member of the healthcare industry will have its own Iodine-like portal for engaging customers by gathering their disease and treatment experiences and feedback, and posting that information online anonymously (and in compliance with HIPAA regulations). Imagine how that might drive patients to increase their trust in providers, insurers, and treatments.
That is a win-win scenario that awaits us all