Amin Azzam gained a measure of crowdsourcing cachet last year by conceiving of a class where medical students would receive course credit for editing Wikipedia pages about various diseases. The idea landed him on a panel at a conference where another participant, Jared Heyman, asked him to help get his students involved in a more ambitious project: diagnosing patients they had never met.
Heyman is the founder of CrowdMed, a company where patients with difficult-to-diagnose ailments post their symptoms online, offering cash rewards to people in exchange for correct assessments. The company was founded in 2012 after Heyman watched his sister struggle with a rare disease known as fragile X-associated primary ovarian insufficiency. CrowdMed’s target audience is people with so-called orphan diseases, those that affect fewer than 200,000 people. There are about 6,800 such diseases affecting about 25 million Americans in all, according to the National Human Genome Research Center. Such conditions are notoriously difficult to diagnose.