When Every Second Counts: How Medical Crowdsourcing Saves Lives

patient coughed up

Being referred to a specialist by your Primary Care Physician is nothing out of the ordinary.  Most of the time, there’s little reason to worry about the additional wait, whether it’s 1 week or 10.  Just three weeks ago, a Family Medicine physician thought twice about simply referring out as usual, and posted the case on SERMO.  The time sensitive information he got saved a boy’s life.

The 14 year-old by came into clinic with a nagging cough.  No fevers, no sore throat or chest pain, vitals and exam were normal, lungs were clear.  When the boy returned for a follow-up, he reported feeling better after coughing up a strange looking “branch-like” mass, which his Mother brought with them to show the doctor.

SERMO Bronchial CastBefore sending the unusual specimen to the lab, the doctor snapped a picture and posted it on SERMO to crowdsource insights from colleagues and specialists. Within a few hours, specialists reached a concensus: Fontan-Associated Plastic Bronchitis, an extremely rare respiratory condition associated with previous heart surgeries that few primary care doctors will ever encounter.

“While pulmonary may help, he needs to see cardiology urgently for plastic bronchitis following Fontan surgeries…please give them a call and ask whoever is on call for the weekend when they can see him (or have him admitted)” – Cardiologist

Another doctor echoed the severity of the situation, citing a case that went undiagnosed:

“[I had] a little 3 year old patient of mine who died from this recently. Mother had shown her doctors a cast she had coughed up while in the hospital for respiratory symptoms post Fontan, but sent her home without recognizing the diagnosis. She died a few days later.”

The child’s primary care physician was able to expedite referral (without waiting for results to come back from the lab), and in just two days the boy was treated and life was saved.

Read the full press release here.

Ayesha Khalid, M.D., an ear, nose and throat specialist at Cambridge (Mass.) Hospital and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, had a similar experience.  She used SERMO’s platform to help her diagnose a patient whose throat CT seemed to show a developing brain turmor.  After posting the image of the tumor on SERMO, she instantly got advice from other specialists confirming that this was something to be worried about, and sent the patient to a brain tumor specialist for treatment.

According to the US National Center on Policy Analysis, each year, 10-20 percent of cases are misdiagnosed; 28 percent of those diagnostic mistakes are life-threatening, and as many as 40,000 people die from fatal diagnostic errors in US intensive care units.

We polled physicians on how often they curbside on patient cases and learned that more than 83.5% consult with colleagues on their cases at least once a week.  Fewer than 2% never consult on their patient cases.  72% consult on other colleague’s patients at least once a week.  With curbsiding playing such an important role in medicine (89% agree curbsiding about patient cases is helpful), Khalid shared the pain point SERMO fulfills; “You can’t always find the time or the doctors to come in and say ‘please eyeball this patient’”.

“Many treatable conditions go mis- or undiagnosed for years not for a lack of science, but simply because doctors traditionally do not have quick access to a network of specialists who can quickly recognize potential red flags of challenging conditions,” said Dr. Richard Armstrong a SERMO member and general surgeon. “Medical crowdsourcing has the power to change that, giving doctors around the world free access to the best collective medical expertise at the tip of their fingertips.”

Hundreds of physicians consult on difficult patient cases on SERMO each month.  Patient’s lives are improved on a regular basis because of the quick and varied responses physicians are able to receive both in the US and abroad, as 85% of physicians who posted a patient case on SERMO said they received the information they were looking for.

Last July, we shared a patient case that came to us from The Floating Doctors, a non-profit medical relief team that provides free health care services to isolated areas.  They encountered a 13 year old girl who was 4 months pregnant while on mission in Panama, whose ultrasound revealed a 3.5 cm mass boarding the occipital region of the fetus’ head.

After physicians on the ground administered their first response and preliminary diagnosis, they turned to SERMO specialists, posting the case and ultrasound images, inside the physician-only community.  By the next morning, specialists had evaluated the scans and patient history, and helped the Floating Doctors team put together the best patient care plan possible.

SERMO gives physicians the ability to access insights from verified colleagues safely and securely in a closed, doctors-only environment that also maintains patient privacy.  In the fast-paced world of medicine where every second counts, this platform is saving lives.

If you’re an MD or DO in the US or UK, please join us!


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