Nobody likes the waiting room. Whether it’s the ER, urgent care center, or your doctor’s office, it is usually crowded, stuffy, and inherently filled with sick individuals who want nothing more than to get help and get out of there. What’s worse is that waiting times are getting longer and this correlates with decreased patient satisfaction.[i] According to a Harvard Medical School Study in 2015, the average time spent for your standard doctor’s visit was just over 2 hours.[ii] Add the money in travel costs, co-pays, and loss in productivity at work and patients lose on average $43 per visit, and this is before you get hit with the costs of the care itself.[iii]
These days more and more patients are benefiting from “the crowd” instead of sitting in a crowded waiting room. Just about everyone is familiar with crowdsourcing and has used it in their daily life. From ride-sharing apps to “crowdfunding” and everything in between, the idea of connecting with a large group of people to solve a problem is an organic benefit of the internet. The entire arena of telemedicine continues to grow, as do innovative ideas and processes. Recently, crowdsourcing has been used to expand access, improve quality, and elevate the efficiency of the care provided. Today, there are several health care domains using “the crowd.”
1. Second Opinion
Seeking an alternate opinion from another doctor is nothing new to medicine. Online medical care has made this process much more convenient. Websites and businesses now exist that work to connect patients with experts from across the world at the click of a button. This allows those with limited means to get health professional evaluations that result in more accurate diagnoses and treatments.
2. Population Health
Advances in population health have been made possible in part by crowdsourcing internet data and social media. Websites devoted to population health encompass many domains, from monitoring flu outbreaks via social media channels to bots that scour social media posts and create a map of endemic illnesses. Crowdsourcing allows the public and health professionals to track disease trends in real time on websites and smartphone apps.
3. Direct-to-Consumer Clinical Care
One of the more recently popularized uses of the crowd is in the direct clinical care of patients. Though not explicitly stated as such, crowdsourcing is inherent in most direct-to-consumer telehealth companies. Their websites provide a “virtual waiting room” where health professionals and patients gather. Patients are able to choose those providers based on who may be first available or who is an expert in a particular condition. This saves patients time, productivity, and money.
The idea of the physician “house call” has been resurrected with the use of crowdsourcing. Several companies across the country are offering “on-demand” in-home doctor’s visits. Physicians are sourced from a group of available providers who work in shifts to cover the demands of patients. These services act as an “Uber for Doctors” as health professionals in the area will drive to the patient’s house. In fact, several ride-sharing apps are getting in on the action, offering transportation for patients to and from their medical appointments.
Innovative models for utilizing crowdsourcing extend beyond in-person visits. Asynchronous or “store-and-forward” care models take crowdsourcing to another level. Various sites now offer patients a way to navigate through a dynamic online patient interview, in some cases assisted by artificial intelligence, to create a patient profile. This profile can be sent out to a group of doctors who then select the patient file based on their availability or interest. This approach to health care saves both providers and patients time as it distills the office visit into the informational essentials and removes any designated wait times. This method dispels with the inefficiencies in logistics, allowing both doctor and patient to focus on the problem without having to wait around for each other. The idea of a non-linear health care visit has great implications for improving convenience and efficiency.
In the end, the goal is to elevate efficiency
Regardless of the modality, the benefits of using a large group of people to solve problems is a natural fit for telehealth and online medicine. Health data, expert opinions and clinical care are more easily obtained and disbursed when more individuals are involved. These new models of health care have the potential to drive a digital health care ecosystem that provides more efficient and better care for patients.
Brian D’Anza MD, MA is a co-founder and Lead Medical Advisor for SmartDocMD.
SmartDocMD is an online health care platform that combines proprietary Artificial Intelligence ( A.I.) with access to a “crowd” of board-certified physicians who work on-demand to address acute or urgent care health problems. For more information please visit www.SmartDocMD.com or visit on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.[i] Bleustein C, Rothschild DB, Valen A, Valatis E, Schweitzer L, Jones R. Wait times, patient satisfaction scores, and the perception of care. Am J Manag Care. 2014 May;20(5):393-400.
[ii] Ray KN, Chari AV, Engberg J, Bertolet M, Mehrotra A. Opportunity costs of ambulatory medical care in the United States. Am J Manag Care. 2015;21(8):567-574.
[iii] Ray KN , Chari AV , Engberg J , Bertolet M , Mehrotra A . Disparities in time spent seeking medical care in the United States. JAMA Intern Med . 2015 ; 175 ( 12 ): 1983 – 6