- Healthcare providers who access clinical decision support through mHealth platforms are finding a world of information at their fingertips – and they could be saving lives.
That’s the takeaway from researchers at the Scripps Research Translational Institute who took a closer look at online crowdsourced consult platforms. Their conclusion is that these platforms, which include social media networks like SERMO, Medscape and HealthTap, are giving providers quick access to information that’s helping them reduce serious, costly and potentially deadly medical errors.
The study, focusing on an analysis of more than 37,000 active users on the MedScape Consult network between 2015 and 2017, appears in a recent issue of NPJ Digital Medicine.
“Digital technologies are changing the way medical information is gathered and exchanged,” Evan Muse, MD, PhD, a digital medicine researcher at San Diego-based SRTI, cardiologist at the Scripps Clinic and first author of the study, said in a press release. “Our analysis of the Medscape Consult platform shows that physicians of all ages and medical subspecialties from across the globe are utilizing it as a tool to discuss potential diagnoses and obtain second opinions.”
The research points to the value of a mobile health resource for clinical decision support, giving providers a real-time portal for physician-to-physician engagement. Billed as a source for “the second to hundredth opinion in medicine,” these portals allow providers to gather best practices and apply them quickly, reducing the chances of a clinical error.
“At a time when we’re turning to artificial intelligence to help improve diagnostic accuracy, there’s still plenty of room for tapping into human intelligence via such medical consulting platforms,” Eric Topol, MD, SRTI’s founder and director and editor-in-chief of Medscape, said in the release.
The study also points to the changing nature of clinical decision support.
Muse and his colleagues note that providers can’t necessarily rely on informal face-to-face consults with colleagues – commonly known as curbside consults – because they’re “frequently inaccurate and incomplete.” Yet they can’t just call up a nearby specialist at a moment’s notice.
“While the library stacks were once a treasure trove of valuable information to potentially crack difficult cases, the role of medical libraries and librarians has changed immensely over time,” Muse and his follow researchers noted. “The growth of digital technologies has rapidly changed the way medical information is exchanged and gathered. Currently, online references and mobile applications are increasingly accessed by medical professionals than print journals. While social media and crowdsourcing have been shown to reduce costs and improve speed of information exchange, in research little has been published with regards to contemporary, virtual, peer-to-peer medical second opinion networks.”
While the study focused on Medscape Consult, it did mention other, similar connected health resources, including the Human Diagnosis Project, SERMO, QuantiaMD, Figure 1, HealthTap, CrowdMed and, to a lesser extent, eConsult platforms. All enable providers to connect online to share ideas, while some also permit the sharing of images.
“Collectively, digital online platforms aim to vastly expand resources and potentially provide for a more formalized and clear discussion of specific cases,” they noted.
Analyzing the results of two years’ worth of online collaborations, Muse and his colleagues found that more than 90 percent of physicians posting an online request received a response from another physician within a short period of time. In addition, while a majority of those posting cases online were younger, more than 60 percent of those posting responses were older than 60 years old.
“This certainly illustrates the broad appeal of a virtual medial consultation platform,” they wrote.
Muse and his colleagues also noted that online platforms span the globe, giving providers the ability to connect with providers in other countries as well as the health system next door.
“This global reach is increasingly important to physicians given the populations increased access to world travel and spread of diseases that traditionally had been limited geographically,” they wrote.
Echoing Topol’s comments, Muse and his colleagues concluded that an mHealth network for clinical decision support that relies on human interactions rather than machine learning tools might be the right way to keep the human element in healthcare.
“Artificial intelligence has been advocated as the definitive pathway for reducing misdiagnosis,” they wrote. “But our findings suggest the potential for collective human intelligence, which is algorithm-free and performed rapidly on a voluntary basis, to emerge as a competitive or complementary strategy.”