Crowdsourcing's use of people power can save lives worldwide

The old idiom "for the people, by the people" is an increasingly powerful guardrail for today's communicators.

The old idiom "for the people, by the people" is an increasingly powerful guardrail for today's communicators. From new M&M's colors, to My Starbucks Idea, to the Pepsi Refresh project, leading consumer companies see the power of leveraging their customers for creative thinking and solutions.

For healthcare, it's the ability for doctors to seek one another's advice to diagnose and manage conditions faster than ever.

Take, for example, the crowdsourcing case study in which Chinese doctors emailed an "SOS" to help diagnose a 21-year-old woman stumping all diagnoses with stomach symptoms, hair loss, and facial paralysis. Incredibly, more than 1,000 trained medical professionals saw the message and guessed at the cause of the woman's illness. While many were wrong, nearly one-third suspected a specific poisoning, which was enough to get doctors to consider the possibility and confirm it. Her life was saved.

But crowdsourcing in healthcare isn't necessarily about getting the exact answer - it's about looking at signals that might inform healthcare professionals about something new to explore. Social networks such as Sermo and Clinician 1 support the concept that healthcare professionals enjoy sharing challenges and hearing their peers' opinions. As it can reach more people quickly and offer real-time testing, healthcare crowdsourcing has the potential to shift the focus from finding cures for diseases to preventing them.

"Crowdfunding" is another health-oriented trend to watch. Platforms such as FundaGeek and TechMoola offer opportunities for scientists to seek funding from public sources. For patients, crowdsourcing disease management and treatment experiences are becoming more common through portals such as PatientsLikeMe, CureTogether, and 23andMe. These platforms are a way for sets of data to be developed. CureTogether looked at treatments for depression among its participants and figured out which were most effective, as well as which treatments were being overused and underused: data that could directly inform a full-scale clinical trial for a definitive conclusion. Fast and focused, crowdsourcing has the ability to find solutions at a pace never seen before. Our world of connectivity provides for better, faster learning that can help change lives. l

Debbie Harvey is an executive director in healthcare at GolinHarris, specializing in pharmaceutical marketing and communications.

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