How Netflix's 'Diagnosis' demonstrates the wisdom of the (expert) crowd

Diagnosis, a medical docu-series on Netflix, highlights the power of the crowd. Notably, expert medical professionals coming together to share their experiences and learnings on a number of unsolved cases.

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Diagnosing rare conditions

The 7-part series uses an expert crowd to diagnose people suffering from unexplained illnesses. Including (spoiler alert) a young woman with Coca-Cola colored urine and excruciating pain that was stopping her from leading the active life she once enjoyed. After consulting with local doctors and national specialists, the girl turned to the Diagnosis crowd to find some answers. More than 2,000 responses flooded in from doctors, medical students, vets and other healthcare professionals (and some laypeople). Eventually, a research team led the girl to her diagnosis and a treatment plan that meant she could become active and achieve her dreams of becoming a nurse.

The wisdom of the crowd

The documentary’s premise, that unresolved medical cases can be crowdsourced for a diagnosis, isn’t new. Indeed, many doctors turn to their peers when a rare case baffles them or they’re presented with a disease they’ve never encountered before. Word of mouth is hugely important in medicine. An online expert community simply scales this, and brings together exponentially more brilliant minds.

As Dr Lisa Sanders, author of the popular New York Times Magazine column that inspired Diagnosis, explains “Crowdsourcing acknowledges that there are different ways of knowing. Doctors know things because we read books and have shelves filled with medical journals and medical books. And so there’s that kind of learning. There are my experiences as a doctor. And there’s also my experiences as a human being who has friends and relatives who are sick, and there are my own illnesses.”

Breaking down barriers

Tapping into an expert community, whether that’s through learned or lived experiences, was the magic bullet for the eight patients covered in the series. It takes an action that the medical establishment does well (peer consultation and review) and brings it to a new scale through the Internet. Because the Diagnosis column is hosted online, experts from across the globe can weigh-in.

This is critical. As different professionals from various disciplines will present with a range of knowledge and experience. Similarly, one area of medicine may be more advanced in other countries. This enriches the community and its collective power. This sharing of knowledge beyond geographical boundaries had clear benefits for several patients in the series, including the young woman mentioned earlier.

Emotional support

Diagnosis also highlighted the crowd as a source of support. An expert community is people first. Yes, the collective expertise and knowledge is crucial. But AI and machine learning can never replace the human element of expertise, and it is never more vital than within the medical context demonstrated by this series.

Beyond Diagnosis

Indeed, several healthcare organizations and NGOs are now exploring expert-driven online communities as a way to foster new thinking and innovation. Vaccination experts in Ghana, for instance, can help their peers in Europe in developing immunization programmes and vice versa. This is something we have seen with Zapnito customer the Geneva Learning Foundation. They use their online community to connect learning leaders, to find better ways to learn within global healthcare research and development and deliver low-cost, scalable intervention packages to help a society.

The expert crowd

An important asertion to make is the difference between the crowd, and the expert crowd. The risk with crowdsourcing online is that the price paid is noise. Validation and elevation of true experts is crucial to the power of the community, and a core value of Zapnito. Only when the integrity of an expert community is upheld, can it reach its potential. Without this, it inevitably becomes a forum, and any value is lost in the noise.

Great minds

As Diagnosis shows, great things come when expert minds are united and focused on a common goal. By giving them a space to discuss and share their experiences, the show managed to change the lives of eight patients. Imagine, then, the power of an online community that delivers this at scale - across the full spectrum of healthcare.

Carme Raventos

Solutions Manager, Zapnito

1 Comments

Go to the profile of Matthias Gutzmann
Matthias Gutzmann 6 months ago

Very good article and yes, imagine scaling the expertise and save many more lifes.