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“The Power of Crowdsourcing”: A Primer on Trending Medical Education

4 Mins read

crowdsourcing medical education

Crowdsourcing is a term that was coined by Jeff Howe in Wired Magazine, 2006. The term is used when a group is used to solve a problem or achieve a goal.

crowdsourcing medical education

Crowdsourcing is a term that was coined by Jeff Howe in Wired Magazine, 2006. The term is used when a group is used to solve a problem or achieve a goal.

An article was written on the Healthworks Collective blog that mentions the importance  of digital literacy for physicians:  “Social Media Residency”:  Essential for Tomorrow’s  Physicians”.

With free and easy access to medical information, patients are much more educated today. According to a study published in the Journal of Health Communication70 percent of surveyed patients planned to ask their doctor questions about the information they found on the internet, and 40 percent had printed the information to take to the appointment.

Education has always had differing points of view on methodologies. Technology plays and ever changing role in medical education. Techniques that harness the collective power of individuals will accelerate the curve of medical education.

Bertalan Mesko MD PhD, of Webicina has strongly supported the role of virtual reality in medical education.

Patients will ask questions regarding their conditions. Physicians need to have current knowledge at their fingertips.

I like to reference other industries to see if their ideas are transferable to healthcare. Education sites can include other important aspects of learning like online degrees or test prep, learning management systems, educational content, marketplaces, online tutoring, shared-learning, funding for projects. Today we will focus on crowdsourcing.

Examples of Crowdsourcing Sites

InnoCentive – solutions to company problems

Amazon Mechanical Turk – completes small and repetitive tasks

Kickstarter – funding for project

Digital Health Weekly (expert sourcing)- a new site where experts teach about Digital Health

Crowdsourcing and connectedness will greatly shape the way doctors learn and deliver care.  I reached out to Dan Lambert, co-founder of BoardVitals on the subject of crowdsourcing. Several concepts surfaced that are worth addressing. Peer-reviewed medical information allows physicians to be on the same page. With a voting system in place for a particular platform information becomes ‘fluid’ and it can be improved upon by those that are applying this information. In depth collaboration can be used to overlap and master certain concepts.

Lambert states that the market will move towards having the ability to access smaller blocks of content.


Basically, half of everything that a physician learns in medical school will be out of date by the time that they are done practicing. Healthcare innovations are fast, and best practices turn over quickly. The education space has yet to catch up – most medical training is far behind. We frequently hear complaints from physicians that they have to go to many different sources to study. Unfortunately, many of those sources are dated.

In order to become the single source of truth, we had to innovate a  crowdsourcing model that enables information to be continually updated. We bring publishers, universities, and top physicians all onto a single digital ecosystem. University healthcare systems share their latest discoveries and developments, and in exchange, we provide their residents and faculty with the leading online question banks for specialty board exams. Physicians also vote content up and down and suggest changes. This means that the content on our platform has not only been peer reviewed, but peer reviewed by hundreds of doctors.

I also think that this is a general trend in healthcare – companies that never used to work together are finding ways to collaborate and share data. In our case, we actually have competitors that are coming together on our platform to provide the best educational experience for physicians. I think that everyone in our network is motivated to create a better medical community, even if that means sharing the pie.

Practicing is Becoming the Core of Medical Education

I actually think that learning to work as a team is at the core of medical  education. As one speaker at Harvard mentioned when talking about healthcare, ‘What we have are a bunch of cowboys… what we need are pit crews.’ We need to be treating patients end-to-end, and then making sure that they have the right follow up care. This requires some training, as well as a new approach to healthcare systems. I think the right education for this environment is a combination of team and individual learning. Our platform enables individual studying as well as in depth collaborations that we weren’t anticipating. In some areas of our platform, we’re starting to see the Wikipedia concept for medical education emerge.

New Forms of Education

We’ve spent a lot of time talking to publishers and universities. Everyone has an understanding that the old textbook/classroom model is out of date. I think a lot of companies are trying to find ways to make content more modular. For example, if someone is going through our question bank and needs to look up some details on a question, it’s really inefficient to buy the entire book, load it on a device, or even wait for it to ship. The person really just needs a chapter or two. Or they may need a few chapter spread across multiple textbooks. So, maybe the market will move towards buying smaller blocks of combined content, or a subscription model. We may even see books in the future that are combinations of many textbooks, videos, and doctor driven examples from their own clinics. I think it’s about aligning the right incentives more so than the right technology. I think BoardVitals has solved that problem in a lot of ways. We decided to go with a subscription driven platform, with unlimited access, so doctors can search for exactly what they need, on any device.

I imagine at some point in the future, either hospitals or physician practices will purchase site-wide licenses, so that all staff can be up to date. We’ve already improved education for thousands of doctors, and plan on continuing.

The great thing about the internet is that we can take advantage of the power of many. As a collective unit problems can be solved faster, information is more readily accessible and learning becomes much more experiential. What’s your opinion about the present state of education, and how do you think we can improve?

Leave a comment on how you think we can use crowdsourcing in healthcare.

Note: Healthworkscollective readers can subscribe to our site at Digital Health Weekly
for free.

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