'Medical detectives' are helping people diagnose tricky conditions online.

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When one mom took to a medical platform called CrowdMed, her son Joseph was in desperate need of help.

“My son feels like an old man,” she wrote. “He suffers from constant, debilitating fatigue, painful body aches … he feels like he’s dying.”

After submitting his case to the site, more than 40 “medical detectives” — medical experts from around the world — took it on. They came to the consensus that he most likely had Lyme disease, even though that had previously been ruled out by his physicians following negative test results.

The medical detectives had noticed that the tests he had taken were old and known to be inaccurate now with advanced technology. They recommended he take a new test, which confirmed that Lyme disease was the correct diagnosis. He’s now on the appropriate treatment plan and feeling way better.

The internet is a wild place like that.

Who would have thought the same tools we use to look at pictures of cute kittens could also help us solve mysterious medical cases?

The internet and social media have not only changed the way friends communicate with each other, but have changed the way doctors and patients communicate, too.

Like other professionals, doctors benefit from sharing insight and expertise with other doctors. But only so much can be learned from attending a conference or reading a medical journal. That’s where crowdsourcing medical info has come into play.

Here are five ways doctors (and everyday folks) are using the internet to change the medical world as we know it:

1. Medical detectives are solving difficult medical mysteries on CrowdMed.

Image via CrowdMed.

There are thousands and thousands (and thousands) of medical conditions out there. The odds of one doctor knowing all of them? Well, that’d be ridiculous! And that’s exactly why CrowdMed came into existence.

As in the example above, CrowdMed uses crowdsourcing to help solve unique medical cases online. We’re not talking your common cold here. We’re talking difficult medical conditions that could normally take several years, and a lot of money, to diagnose. With the help of their medical experts, or “detectives,” patients are given access to a wide variety of medical expertise in one online platform.

2. No Instagram filter is needed with these photos, but a medical degree can help.


From the emergency room, here’s our selected case for #Medstudent Monday. What test should you order urgently for this patient?
A video posted by Figure 1 (@figure1) on


While many people take joy in scrolling through photos of puppies and fancy-looking dinners on Instagram, people in the medical community are actively following photos of medical cases to compare notes. With more than 54,000 followers, the account Figure 1 is perfect for health professionals to view and discuss a variety of medical issues ranging from surgeries to X-rays to burn wounds.

“If I’m able to log on to Instagram or Figure 1 and see a picture of something that I learned about three years ago in medical school that I may see in the future, that’s really helpful for my learning going forward,” emergency medicine resident John Corker told Marketplace.

We’ve selected our case of the week. This device can restore a patient’s vision when all other methods fail. Do you know what it is?
A photo posted by Figure 1 (@figure1) on

3. Doctors are using an instant messenger to get their answers super fast.

A “living, breathing, evolving medical knowledge bank,” SERMO has become a go-to social network for doctors around the world. Its community of 600,000 members are all verified and credentialed physicians who use the space to brainstorm, ask questions, collaborate, and exchange knowledge and experiences with each other.

And what makes it stand out is that community members can remain anonymous on the network once they’ve been verified. It creates a safe space for doctors to open up and ask questions they may otherwise avoid asking in a public setting or in their own practice.

“When physicians feel comfortable dialoguing without repercussions, they ask for help, they share knowledge, they admit mistakes — and together advance the universe of medical knowledge,” the website reads. Makes sense.

4. What if a doctor needs a second opinion? There are Facebook groups for that.

Image via Facebook.

When Dr. Brian Jacob wanted to stay in touch and share knowledge with other surgeons around the world, he went straight to Facebook. Jacob created a closed group called International Hernia Collaboration and invited some of his surgeon friends to join.

“What began as a few of us collaborating privately about tough cases quickly spread to hundreds of vetted surgeons and industry members from over 40 countries providing each other continuous quality improvement one Facebook post and comment at a time,” he wrote in Facebook Stories.

The group, which now has over 2,100 members, has seen successful outcomes thanks to their teamwork. Woo, collaboration! For example, Jacob said in his story:

“One day last year, a patient came to me insisting that he have his hernia fixed as soon as possible. Given his medical history, I suspected it would be best to wait and not operate right away. With the patient’s permission, I decided to reach out to the group for other perspectives. I posted an x-ray image of his hernia and the key information regarding his case, along with my two points: 1) When is it too soon to repair a newly formed hernia? and 2) What technique and product would you use?

Within minutes, other surgeons chimed in with comments, and I felt comforted in teaching hundreds of surgeons across the globe that there was consensus in this decision to postpone the surgery. With the support of the group, I waited a few months before operating, and saved the patient potential injury to his intestines that could occur by operating too soon. I’ve tracked his progress and, almost a year later, he is still doing very well.”

5. Or for the minimal effort approach, let the information come directly to you.

With sites like PediHeartNet, users are able to sign up to be informed on the latest news within their expertise. For instance, PediHeartNet’s listserv allows medical professionals to sign up to receive postings of worldwide discussions to their inbox on various aspects of pediatric cardiology and cardiac surgery. That’s both important and convenient.

When it comes down to it, the more quality information we have about our health, the better off we all are.

It’s great to see medical professionals and everyday people work together to find ways to share their medical knowledge and experiences for the benefit of human good.

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Thumbnail image via iStock.

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