Doctor Detectives

Retired MDs Are Ready to Solve Your Medical Mystery

Kathleen Doheny,

holmes-watsonDr. Greg Denari had practiced for more than 30 years as a family physician in South San Francisco Bay Area, and he was ready to bid goodbye to medicine. Or so he thought.

“I missed medicine, being able to help patients with their medical problems,” Denari says of his retirement. But he didn’t miss the stress of back-to-back patients or paperwork. It seemed there was no halfway option.

Then he found out about a new website called CrowdMed. Launched in 2013, the site offers patients who are frustrated by baffling symptoms online access to “medical detectives.” like Denari and his colleagues.

As its name suggests, CrowdMed works by crowdsourcing answers – tapping the wisdom of the crowd. In this case, the crowd is the collective brains of its medical detectives, including many retired physicians like Denari with years of experience between them, along with practicing MDs, med students and non-professionals – the types who always aced those Jeopardy medical questions (maybe you?). Detectives often build on one another’s hunches to come up with the right diagnosis. In two months or less, patients may get the answers that have eluded them for years.

“Our average patient has been sick for six years and has seen eight doctors, and the problem is still unsolved,” says CrowdMed CEO Jared Heyman. “They have also incurred over $55,000 in medical bills.”

Retired doctors are valuable, says Denari, 67, now medical advisor for CrowdMed. “Older physicians can bring their experience, knowledge and judgment to patient cases, while younger physicians often are aware of the latest thinking on illnesses and treatments. Younger physicians are often more aware of rarer conditions.”

Success Stories

As of mid-July 2014, 226 of the 400 cases submitted so far have been solved – most within 55 days.

A 61-year-old woman who posted her case had suffered night sweats, severe diarrhea, food intolerances and rectal ulcers for five years. She got some relief from antibiotics, but could not stay on them forever. By the time she found CrowdMed, she had spent $25,000.

The detectives diagnosed ”leaky gut,” an intestinal issue. After two days of taking hydrolyzed protein, a recommended remedy, she said she felt better than she had since her condition started.

A 78-year-old doctor had suffered years of debilitating muscle pain and fatigue, and figured he had a complex neurological disease for which there was no cure. CrowdMed detectives suggested a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, a disorder involving widespread musculoskeletal pain. The doctor began taking a central nervous system stimulant and got relief.

How CrowdMed Works

Patients in search of a diagnosis post details of their health history and case anonymously on the site; the case stays online for 30 days. (For $99 a month, the case can be posted for longer.) Detectives might ask you follow-up questions, as well as talk among themselves, using the site’s chat feature.

Once you receive your final report of the top diagnoses and recommended solutions, you’re encouraged to take that to your doctor so that together, you can act on the advice.

You can post for free with a $50 refundable deposit. Or you can choose to offer a contribution as an incentive. If you do, the minimum is $200. The more you offer, the more detectives are likely to pay attention to your case. If the case is closed but not successfully resolved, you can request your money back. Detectives share the contributions (the site takes 10 percent), and according to CrowdMed, many detectives pass their shares on to charity.

All detectives, along with the patient, see one another’s suggestions. About 250 detectives are actively working on cases at this time, and those numbers are growing.

For many retired detectives like Denari, the main payoff is the satisfaction of putting their knowledge to good use. “The other parts of the payoff are the thank-you’s and the notes of appreciation for my efforts I get from the patients,” Denari says.