Healthy Aging

Doctor Detectives: Retired MDs Are Ready to Solve Your Medical Mystery

Dr. 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.

Read more or post a case to CrowdMed.


6 responses to “Doctor Detectives: Retired MDs Are Ready to Solve Your Medical Mystery

  1. Yes, no doubt “you get what you pay for” in hearing aids as well as many (but not all) other devices. Unfortunately, the $5,000+ cost of high quality hearing aids is WAY out of reach for many older people living on fixed incomes. It serves no purpose to point out at length all the health and social problems that NOT being able to hear well can cause. That $5,000 will not appear by magic for those who, quite simply, do not have it and cannot get it. It becomes just one more health concern to worry about.

  2. I happend across your website and was surprised by the simplicity with which you talk about hearing when it is truly the most complicated sensory system in the body. Your ears are there to transmit information to your brain which is doing the hearing and processing. I would strongly suggest your readers read the ever increasing body of research linking hearing loss and dementia. The stress of hearing loss has been linked to every aspect of your health. Truly frightening you would place the health of your brain (and your entire being) in the hands of an individual with little to no training on the neurology and medical aspects related to and of the auditory system. I am an audiologist and I have never worked on a commission. In fact, I would happily do my job for free and often have. Yes hearing aids can be expensive and yes there are places that offer them in an incredible range of pricing. They are not all the same by any stretch of the imagination. I am, on a daily basis, correcting problems created by poorly fit hearing aids and the problems they cause. I am also a wearer of hearing aids myself and can honestly tell you …you get what you pay for. More importantly you could actually be placing yourself at risk by not seeing an audiologist. A hearing aid dispenser has training in the technical aspects of fitting a hearing instrument and I know there are some who are competent. However, they are not skilled at dealing with the health of the system, finding acoustic tumors, infections, fungus, abscesses, foreign bodies, processing disorders, vestibular disorders to name a very few. Hearing aids have a huge array of limitations and advantages and they are certainly NOT a device which should be shopped for by looking at a price tag. Do you go to your doctor and ask for the cheapest medicine they have or do you ask for the best medicine to deal with your problem. You can also actually further damage your hearing if you are not fit correctly. It is frightening to see the damage people have done to themselves by looking for a quick fix. We always suggest people shop for hearing aids but please, please, please do this fully aware of the right questions to ask and see an audiologist first as we can save your hearing, improve your quality of life and in some cases save a life. Be informed and be wise.

    1. Hi Tammy, thanks for your comment. Erica Manfred’s article is called “What I Learned from Browsing the Hearing Aid Forums.” She writes about how digital technology can help us in various aspects of our lives and never claims to be a health professional. And the stream of comments under the article, from experts and non-experts alike, offers plenty of perspective beyond Erica’s that our readers can weigh and balance with their pocketbooks.

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