Medical diagnostic errors are a serious and costly strain on healthcare systems worldwide, for which patients carry the ultimate risk of harm. The problem highlights a need for strong physician networks to enable specialist consultations and the discussion of potential diagnoses and treatments. A new study demonstrates the significant global reach and broad appeal of an online, crowdsourced consultation platform for physicians in search of diagnostic and therapeutic input.

In their study, Scripps Research scientists examined the profiles and usage characteristics of over 37,000 active users of Medscape Consult, a free, physician-to-physician virtual consultation forum available via Medscape, one of the largest global online communities of physicians and health care providers, during a two-year period between November 2015 and October 2017.

They found that physicians from every continent used the platform and that more than 90 percent of cases posted by the physician-users received responses from other physicians within a short period, a demonstration of the potential of such platforms for leveraging expert medical knowledge for patient care around the world.

Digital technologies are changing the way medical information is gathered and exchanged,” says study first author Evan Muse, MD, PhD, a digital medicine researcher at Scripps Research Translational Institute and a cardiologist at Scripps Clinic. “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 usage data indicated that younger physicians were responsible for posting the majority of patient cases, while users who had been in medical practice longer contributed more responses. This illustrates the broad appeal of an online consultation platform among physicians of all ages. Although physicians from internal medicine made up the largest population of users, representing over a quarter of the total, there were a wide variety of medical and surgical subspecialties active on the platform during the study period.

“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,” says Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of Scripps Research Translational Institute, who is also editor-in-chief of Medscape.

While the use of this and other virtual consultation platforms continues to grow in size and reach, there remains a need to determine whether peer input improves diagnostic accuracy and ultimately patient outcomes.

Source: Scripps Research