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Monday, November 5, 2012

Crowdsourcing for Health Innovation

Wayne Leung, Digital Communications Specialist, Health Council of Canada

A few weeks ago a team from the Health Council attended Crowdsourcing for Health Innovation. The event, hosted by St. Elizabeth Healthcare, brought health system planners, managers and policy-makers together with digital communications professionals and other members of the Technorati to explore the concept of “crowdsourcing” and how it could be applied to health care.

The concept of crowdsourcing can loosely be defined as the self-organizing of communities of engaged users/clients/customers to participate in the creation of some end product. A good example is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia based entirely on user-generated content.

The keynotes for the event are veritable superstars in the digital world; Jeff Howe, a journalism professor at Northeastern University who coined the term crowdsourcing, and Rahaf Harfoush, who was a digital strategist for Barak Obama’s first presidential campaign.

While crowdsourcing has been broadly applied across a variety of sectors, the health care sector has lagged. Howe pointed to a “culture of resistance” that seems to pervade in health care and impedes innovation.

The pair did share some interesting health care-related examples. Howe cited the example of the monomeric retroviral protease, a molecule in AIDS research. After engaging the video gaming community to find ways to “fold” the molecule within a given sets of constraints gamers, who have keen pattern recognition skills, found a solution within two weeks.

Harfoush then cited the example of the Open Source Drug Discovery Program allowing researchers to bypass patent-heavy pharmaceutical field to develop new drugs.

Howe went on to say that vast amounts of untapped data exist in the health care system. Patients possess knowledge of their symptoms and their pathology, and this information isn’t being gathered or harnessed. Given the Health Council’s recent reporting on patient engagement I wondered if crowdsourcing has applications as a means to improve patient engagement.

The concept of crowdsourcing is rife with potential for application throughout the health care sector and I’m looking forward to exploring ways to harness its potential for our work at the Health Council.

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