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The potential of crowdsourcing to improve healthcare

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The potential of crowdsourcing to improve healthcare

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Last week I looked at a number of sites that are aiming to directly involve patients in the improvement of healthcare services.  What arguably began with WellSpringboard winning the PCORI prize has since blossomed into a niche industry, with a couple of sites emerging to offer patients more of a say in how to improve their healthcare.

The latest of these is the Portuguese site Patient Innovation, which launched earlier this year and aims to facilitate the sharing of solutions developed by patients and caregivers to any disease.  They believe that there is a lot of innovative potential within each patients that is currently going untapped.

It’s a topic covered in a recent paper by Mike Weiner, director of the Regenstrief Institute’s Center for Health Services Research.  The paper provides an overview of the primary uses of crowdsourcing in healthcare today:

  • Crowd labour, where people are recruited to perform particular tasks
  • Creative crowdsourcing, which is similar in many ways to crowd labour, but focuses on innovative tasks
  • Crowd research, which is broadly speaking the citizen science applications
  • Crowd funding, which I’m sure you’re all too familiar with already

One particular application of crowdsourcing in healthcare that has not currently been employed is to which elements of healthcare are seen by the public as most important.  Weiner suggests that this information would prove a useful first step in taming the steepling costs that are of concern to most developed nations.

He goes on to describe applications such as those being deployed by Patient Innovation et al in turning to the crowd for creative insights into how healthcare can be delivered more effectively.

The paper provides some balance to the debate by discussing some of the pitfalls and risks involved in using crowdsourcing in healthcare, whether that’s including a slightly biased sample size, or the supply of data that is difficult to make use of.  It is important to weigh up the pros and cons of various approaches, particularly in areas such as crowd research, where ethical concerns are always at the forefront.

The paper is only a dozen pages long so is far from exhaustive, but Dr Weiner has some good experience in the field to call upon, and his work provides a nice introduction to the field, together with some nice caveats for anyone believing this might be the holy grail.

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