Anyone who has been misdiagnosed by many doctors numerous times (count me in on that infuriating experience) knows that our medical system doesn’t always work flawlessly. In fact, some people are left for weeks or months trying to locate the source of their pain.

For me, it took five years, more than $10,000, and around 12 doctors before finally solving my medical mystery. That’s why I was so intrigued when I learned about CrowdMed, a company with a unique approach to diagnosing previously unsolvable cases.

CrowdMed understands that it’s impossible for one physician to know absolutely everything about the human body. When a doctor (or doctors) can’t quite figure out what’s wrong, CrowdMed founder Jared Heyman counts on the wisdom of crowds to figure out the best course of action.

Patients post their medical symptoms, health history, relevant diagnostic images and test results, and then wait as retired physicians, medical students, recovering patients, nurses, physician assistants, chiropractors, scientists, naturopaths and interested researchers place bets on what they think the most likely solution will be to treat that particular ailment.

“Before coming to us for help, CrowdMed's patients suffered an average of six years, consulting with at least eight different doctors and incurring more than $50,000 in medical expenses — with no definitive diagnosis,” states the CrowdMed website. “After joining CrowdMed, most patients' cases have been solved in weeks, with more than 80 percent of diagnostic suggestions reported accurate by patients.”

So far, CrowdMed and its online “medical detectives” have solved more than 800 real-world cases. For a patient who has been bouncing from doctor to doctor for years in search of answers, the service could be life-changing.

CrowdMed accepts all kinds of patients on the site, even tackling psychological puzzles. Most of the cases ultimately end up involving rare diseases or common diseases presenting with uncommon symptoms.

Heyman was inspired to start CrowdMed after almost losing his younger sister. She spent three years and more than $100,000 searching for an answer to her own medical mystery. After all that time and money, how was it finally solved? An interdisciplinary team of medical experts joined forces, pooling their collective knowledge, until they were able to reach consensus on a diagnosis.

CrowdMed builds on this idea, calling on many minds, rather than just one, to help those who have been suffering without helpful treatment.

Patients who are interested in having their medical mystery tackled by the CrowdMed community pay between $99 and $249 a month to be on the site. The price doesn’t just include the fee to be listed. That funding acts as an incentive for the medical detectives to take a look; the higher the cost of the package, the bigger the incentive for medical detectives to investigate.

One of the representatives from the company told us that customers who choose the $99 package might get between 12 and 20 responses to their issue, while people who sign up for the $249 package usually get between 25 and 40 responses. A large number of customers end up staying on the site for about two months, putting the total cost for most patients between $198 to $498.

While that might seem steep, to anyone who has spent thousands of dollars on unsuccessful treatments because they were prescribed for the wrong diagnosis (guilty as charged), it’s a bargain. When factoring in how much time and money would go toward visiting the same number of medical professionals as those who respond on the site, the online fee begins to look like a steal.

For those who can’t afford the cost, anyone can apply to receive the service for free, although only 5 to 10 percent of those cases are approved.

Once the community has chimed in with suggestions, patients receive a report that includes solutions and supporting medical references from the medical detectives. The patient then goes over the CrowdMed community suggestions with her personal doctor. The doctor looks over the ideas and gives the final say. The patient then reports back to the community, noting who had the best answers, and any compensation offered goes to the experts who were most helpful in figuring out the solution.

While monetary compensation is offered, CrowdMed notes that many of the detectives choose to donate the funds to charity rather than pocketing them.

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