Television shows about medicine have captured our attention for decades. Add in the intrigue of unsolvable cases and you have something like the Emmy-award winning series House. While the plausibility of some of the cases on fictional shows like House is debatable, a new Netflix documentary series called Diagnosis offers the same medical mystery, but it profiles real people fighting real diseases with elusive diagnoses.
Released in August 2019, the first season’s seven episodes offer insight into the daily struggles and medical challenges of people who live with an undiagnosed disease. Each episode follows a patient whose symptoms and effective treatment options have evaded doctors. Produced in combination with the New York Times Magazine column of the same name written by Dr. Lisa Sanders, a physician at the Yale School of Medicine, Diagnosis utilizes the power of crowdsourcing in an attempt to obtain and explore new theories that may offer hope for patients without any answers.
Crowdsourcing has become commonplace, mostly due to our constant virtual connection and the growth of social media. It represents the ultimate example of two heads are better than one and is built upon the open sharing of information. Yet the medical community has historically functioned in a more private system—and with good reason.
Cases are generally discussed only within groups at a single institution due to patient privacy laws. This model works well if the institutional knowledge is large enough. And for common diseases, it generally is. However, when it comes to rare and undiagnosed diseases, it is less likely that a single institution or provider will have the answers.
Despite extensive training and expertise in various specialties, medical providers are still human and cannot possibly know everything about every disease. Additionally, people with medical concerns vastly outnumber the available providers. Here at doc.ai, we gather information through crowdsourcing, then use artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning to translate this data for the benefit of providers and patients alike. This type of data curation and sharing may be part of the answer for the nearly 25 million Americans who currently live with an undiagnosed disease. For these patients, the medical profession has not been able to effectively treat — let alone cure — their symptoms.
Diagnosis provides insight into the ways these patients suffer the physical, emotional and financial scars of their diagnostic odyssey. In the first episode, we meet Angel, an aspiring nurse who has periods of debilitating pain that have led to multiple hospitalizations over the course of a year. Not only has Angel struggled physically, she is close to bankruptcy because of the cost of her care. After her case is profiled in the column, opinions poured in from readers around the globe with suggestions coming from all education levels, all experiences and all backgrounds.
While each episode features a distinct case, the common thread is the person’s struggle living with the unknown and the reliance upon others to help find a solution. With an increasingly large base of readers, Sanders utilizes the combined knowledge of the public, hoping someone, somewhere will have the answer. As the opinions and suggestions are being profiled, viewers can also see the person behind the suggestion, including those who have suffered in similar ways to the patient and now have a diagnosis. The audience sees the thinly veiled tears of mothers whose children have similar symptoms, the eager young doctors hoping to provide the answer and the seasoned experts hoping their own experience can provide a clue.
Diagnosis offers something different from Hollywood’s typical take on medical mystery. Featuring real people, it provides proof of the power in crowdsourcing for the medical community. It also offers a glimpse into the hardship and challenge of living with an undiagnosed disease and highlights the beautiful way in which people can help strangers change their lives.
While you may never have the opportunity to weigh in on a case featured in Diagnosis, you can still be a part of improving outcomes by participating in A.I. Trainings and Digital Health Trials through doc.ai. Over time, we’ll be able to translate the massive amounts of health information available into outcome improvements for all — whether undiagnosed or dealing with common diseases. Perhaps your information could be the key to helping a stranger—or yourself—unlock the path to wellness.