Thinking about healthcare from the inside, the outside and the upside down.
Nearly every day I was working in hospitals, I found myself thinking, “surely there’s a better way to do this,” and I wanted to help create those new ways.
Now I wait for it because it always comes: the funny look I get when I tell people I studied molecular biology at Princeton, earned a medical degree from Columbia and then decided to go into healthcare business, working with start-ups and star gazers. Depending on where their expression sits on the spectrum from confusion to mild disgust, I may even defensively volunteer that I won the award to being the best with patients but saw more opportunities to help them by improving struggling systems rather than continuing to operate within them.
Medicine is complex, so where do you start?
Over the past seven years since I became a doctor, I’ve worked with lots of innovative pharma, biotech and healthcare technology companies, but one phenomenon has really struck me as truly disruptive.
One of the many areas where we could obviously “do things better” is in sharing knowledge and experience between doctors.
With increasing specialisation in medicine and over two million journal articles published every year, it is impossible for one human being to be an expert in all aspects of medicine. That’s why we have GPs and specialists, but anyone who’s ever been referred to a consultant knows there are very real barriers for both patients and doctors to access specialist medical knowledge. That’s where medical crowdsourcing comes in, and I think it’s amazing.
What does “doing it better” look like?
In helping the world’s leading social network for doctors get started in the UK, Sermo shared with me what medical crowdsourcing looks like in action, and it looks good.
Three weeks ago, a boy came to the paediatrician with a bad cough. Standard tests came back normal, and the boy returned saying he felt better after coughing up a small branch-like mass. The paediatrician shared a picture of this unusual specimen on Sermo and responses started coming in within 30 minutes.
Within seven hours he had feedback from a cardiologist who said this could be a red flag for a rare and potentially fatal condition called Fontan-Associated Plastic Bronchitis. Because the paediatrician had access to a network of over 340,000 US and UK doctors through Sermo, he learned about Plastic Bronchitis, saw it was consistent with aspects of the patient’s history, got the patient seen by the right doctors within two days and most likely saved his life. Another doctor commenting on the post shared what happened with another patient who wasn’t so lucky:
“[I had] a little three year old patient of mine who died from this recently. Mother had shown her doctors a cast she had coughed up while in the hospital for respiratory symptoms post Fontan, but sent her home without recognizing the diagnosis. She died a few days later.”
We need GPs, we need consultants and we need a formal system of referrals and consultations. But sometimes, asking our friends “hey what do you think about this?” can provide reassurance or raise a critical warning flag.
Doctors need quicker, easier, more innovative ways to connect with their friends, and technology-enabled medical crowdsourcing is one area where we are starting to do things better. It inspires me to keep searching for more.