CrowdMed, Figure 1 work together to engage doctors, solve medical mysteries

By Jonah Comstock

Figure 1, the Instagram-like social network for doctors to share medical images, and CrowdMed, a platform for crowdsourcing medical mysteries, have been compared to each other since they were both founded in 2012. But now the creators of the two platforms have decided the time is right to collaborate. CrowdMed launched a Figure 1 account recently with the dual goals of enticing some of the network's doctors to become CrowdMed "medical detectives" and providing interesting content for Figure 1 users.

"When we raised our seed round back in 2013, one of the questions we got a lot was ‘What about CrowdMed?'" Figure 1 CEO Greg Levey told MobiHealthNews. "People said ‘Aren’t you scared that you guys are competitive?’ I never saw it that way and as far as I know Jared [Heyman, CEO of CrowdMed] didn’t either.  And that’s funny in retrospect because we’ve gone very different directions. But we kept in touch."

Both founders had a partnership in the back of their minds for years, but it was Heyman who finally reached out.

"I read about [Figure 1's] recent funding and the incredible growth in terms of medical users," Heyman said. "CrowdMed has also grown quite a bit since we first started and the idea occurred to me that they need interesting content for their users. And I read in his article that the type of content that Figure 1 users find most interesting is strange medical cases. And CrowdMed has an abundance of strange medical cases. In fact almost all of the cases submitted on our site are obscure, strange, weird diseases."

CrowdMed connects patients with rare or mysterious diseases to a network of experts who compete to solve cases for cash and gamified rewards. Heyman says the company has a 65 to 70 percent success rate at solving these medical mysteries and has tens of thousands of registered medical experts. But Figure 1 gives them the opportunity to draw on an even deeper bench. 

"On our side it works great too because our users love interesting content," Levey said. "Anything that there’s an unknown element to really interests them. They want to show their intellect and their training and their education and so they love to try to solve quizzes and solve mysteries. We have things like that come up organically on Figure 1, but it’s not in a structured way like it is on CrowdMed. So it’s a perfect marriage, because our users love that stuff."

The hope is that doctors will see the puzzles on Figure 1 and interact with them to a limited degree -- but some will get hooked and sign up for CrowdMed, where they have access to more resources as well as the opportunity to compete for rewards.

"When we poll our detectives about why they invest their time in CrowdMed, they mention the cash fifth or sixth on their list," Heyman said. "So we think it’s an important motivator but not even the primary motivator.  Other things they mention are the intellectual challenge, which is the same thing that primarily motivates Figure 1 users. There’s also a point system where they can compete for points by performing well. We publish a leaderboard every month and, as it turns out, physicians are very competitive types, so there’s a lot of appeal to showing that you’re the smartest Dr. House wannabe on there."

The partnership is in its early stages, but if it works out the companies are considering a deeper technical integration, or using Figure 1 features to target particular specialists.

In the meantime, both companies are moving forward in interesting ways on their own. CrowdMed is starting to starting to talk with health plans about making its service reimburseable for certain patients. Figure 1, on the other hand, is looking for ways to make its social network, which is mostly used by medical students, more palatable to older doctors.