Crohn’s Disease – The Virtual Crowd holds the Cure

People are dying from Crohn’s Disease yet many people in the world have no idea about its potential SEVERITY or PERVASIVE nature. At present, Doctors only treat its SYMPTOMS because Medical Researchers have been unable to pin down the exact configuration of bacterial, genetics and environmental factors which CAUSE it. Worse, these steroid, immuno-suppressant and immuno-modulator (i.e., “Biologics,” like television’s celebrity pharmaceutical, “Humira”) symptom drug treatments can cause counter-intuitive lethal and life-style altering side effects FAR WORSE than the Crohn’s Disease. But Crohn’s Disease symptoms can be THAT physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially, professionally and socially destructive and painful, its patients have no choice but to conform to these traditional treatments, many of which haven’t changed in the 30 years I’ve had the disease. But that’s changing now thanks to BRAVE PATIENTS who connect on the Internet to share experiences to help one another.

Incremental Improvements in Patient-Centric Technology + Healthcare Social Media Analytics + Data-Mining from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Wearables =

A Crowdsourced Cure to Crohn’s Disease

Patients are the most valuable untapped resource in Healthcare

      Ever since my friend Glen visited me in the hospital approximately 12 years ago and began raving about this little device in his hand which contained all of his Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen genuine and bootlegged music, my life changed.  I soon learned first-hand by just how much, when I moved apartments a few years later and was able to discard almost 1,000 CDs because they now were all housed in my 160 GB iPod, with room to spare.  The practical effects of that little iPod, on just my day-to-day mundane tasks, fostered hope deep down inside me that one day soon some smart scientists and entrepreneurs would turn their formidable smarts to healthcare, if only to capitalize on the opportunities presented by a grossly inefficient healthcare system which more accurately resembled “my father’s Oldsmobile” instead of “THE” industry poised to be technologically transformed into representing the “New Digital  Frontier” which would enable healthcare professionals to more precisely and efficiently diagnose and treat the most challenging diseases.

      My ability to compact my entire album and CD collection into a device which fit into my back pocket had changed my thinking as to what was formerly the technological limit and I embraced the new digital limitless frontier and its infinite possibilities which now permeated all walks of my life.  Shortly thereafter, the proliferation of “health care social media” and its various digital platforms created a technologically-driven Patient Grassroots Movement which brought the phrase “patient-centric” into our lexicon and began to demonstrate how patients might be the most valuable untapped resource in healthcare, and possibly even the missing link to finally conquering heretofore unthinkable solutions to devastating medical problems.

Patients helping other Patients is Powerful Medicine

   Then, just like “Deadheads” swapping digital files to complete their meticulously organized libraries of Grateful Dead concerts, patients with all different diseases began to find each other in disease-specific virtual patient communities and in confidential virtual patient “Groups” and they started to share contemporaneous medical feelings and experiences.  For those patients who shared seemingly candid information, the reward was their receipt of almost instantaneous global validation of their strangest disease symptoms and manifestations, the ones they thought were weird, bizarre or just simply in their heads, as some frustrated doctors and “negative” family members had repeatedly told them.  I watched, and participated, as this “digital global connection” between patients almost immediately improved the quality of life, especially for chronic patients battling rare diseases and incurable diseases like mine, Crohn’s Disease, a common Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).  Moreover, the lonely plight of the chronic patient could now be remedied in an instant by posting on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ and initiating a “conversation” with a like-minded patient, possibly in a different time zone, in some faraway place, maybe even on the other side of the world.   That’s when I confirmed what I had heard so many years ago in one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, “Scarlet Begonias”: “Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.” [Hunter/Garcia]

It all “clicked” in 2014 at “Doctors 2.0 & You” in Paris, France

      My regular participation in healthcare social media combined with my diverse digital global connections with other Crohn’s Disease patients (and also with an increasing number of healthcare professionals and medical school students, both of whom are so dedicated to their respective medical specialties that they can’t resist participating in generalized patient-centric Tweetchats) has taught me so much about how to best MANAGE a difficult disease like Crohn’s Disease.  But the emergence of patient-centric smartphone medicine, mobile health, e-patients, quantified-self health-tracking devices and the upcoming wearables-for-healthcare revolution has me now thinking about better utilizing all of the volunteered information from these patients to better UNDERSTAND Crohn’s Disease.  This change in how I want to utilize the ever-increasing incremental capabilities of patient-centric healthcare technology first occurred to me in June, 2014, while interacting with the trail-blazing healthcare social media analytics company, “Symplur,” at “Doctors 2.0 & You,” “‘The’ International Digital Health Conference in Social Media, Mobile Apps, Serious Games & Connected Objects, held annually in early June in Paris, France.

      More specifically, I began to see the value of the voluminous Twitter patient data fastidiously organized and analyzed by Symplur as it developed algorithms and other proprietary computations to segregate this data for empowered, informed and assertive patients to exhibit “[e]mpowering decision-making with real-time access to insights from over a billion healthcare social media data points.”  In more practical terms, Symplur provided patients with the ability to crowdsource the various decisions they had to make in managing their disease or medical condition.  As a result, patients could now enter doctor exam rooms and surgical consultations conceivably already “armed” with at least the knowledge and experience gained from the hundreds of thousands of patients who’ve interacted on Twitter about a specific disease, condition, symptom or medical issue. This offers patients and healthcare professionals an additional medically-significant dimension of information which maximizes their respective capabilities during a time of increasingly innovative and fast-changing healthcare technology.

Medical Wearables “revolution” will add more specific REAL patient information

      “Crowdsourcing” is defined by the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.”  Now, with the advent of medical wearables, patients with any disease which lends itself reasonably well to accurate predictive or identifiable “measurables” will be able to crowdsource their readiness to discuss all aspects of their disease with healthcare professionals from not only the information and experience gleaned from social media but also from REAL patients, assuming these patients consent to this usage of their “measurables” or medical data obtained from their medical wearables.  In that regard, with an incurable, chronic disease like Crohn’s Disease, it would appear many, if not, most, patients would gladly participate in sharing the relevant medical information obtained from their IBD-wearables to help find safer and more efficacious treatments for Crohn’s Disease, and possibly even a cure.

     Therefore, with the proliferation of medical wearables, the continued incremental advances in patient-centric healthcare technology plus the myriad of data points from all patient social media activity (an extension of the fascinating new modifications to the “Healthcare Hashtag Project” as “presented” by the representatives of “Symplur” at 2014’s “Doctors 2.0 & You”),  crowdsourcing will soon enable a patient with the ability to, for example, access Crohn’s Disease medication decisions made by other patients around-the-world with similar IBD cases via access to IBD-wearable data-banks such that they can go into the exam room and bring with them the wisdom and experience of potentially at least tens of thousands of other similar Crohn’s Disease patients.  Then, the always difficult Crohn’s Disease medication decisions involving steroids, immuno-suppressants and immuno-modulators (i.e., Biologics) are at least partially based upon REAL data from other similar Crohn’s or IBD patients who’ve already tried different combinations of these drugs to treat their Crohn’s Disease.  This will completely change the way in which Crohn’s Disease patients make the necessary but difficult “having-to-choose-between-the-lesser-of 2-evils” decisions inherent with these potent but potentially deleterious side-effects-laden IBD treatment drugs.  In essence, the Crohn’s Disease patient, and patients with other heretofore thought-to-be incurable diseases, can now “crowdsource” these type of decisions and at least attempt to mitigate treatment medication risks while simultaneously devising the most efficacious treatment FOR THEM.

Wearables also will grant Doctors and Medical Researchers a contemporaneous perspective in treating chronic diseases like Crohn’s Disease

      The information gathered from healthcare social media has become so ripe with potentially “difference-making” data points that MANY very knowledgeable and experienced patients with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (the other most common IBD) are increasingly willing to share the details of their every encounter with these diseases for the purposes of helping the dedicated medical researchers and healthcare professionals refine current IBD “symptom treatments” (as causation is still uncertain so all treatments are targeted at minimizing symptoms) so they are safer and more efficacious while they buy time until the bacterial, genetics and environmental triggers for Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are better understood and a cure can be contemplated.  During this same time, the global usage, and hopefully popularity, of IBD-wearables will enable healthcare professionals to also gain an additional element of IBD patient information which they’ve never had access to before regarding what happens to patients when doctors aren’t around. More practically, people with chronic diseases make appointments to see their doctors for future projected dates and times but in an ideal world they’d be better served by seeing their doctors when they, for example, encounter noteworthy Crohn’s Disease problems like a partial intestinal obstruction, on a day when winter suddenly changes to spring and the temperature and barometric pressure both drop precipitously, leaving them to wonder, and hopefully contemporaneously record, if there is a connection between these two extreme disease and weather occurrences?

      IBD-wearables which can measure sharp increases in blood pressure due to the sudden onset of severe pain (and other patient vital/systemic symptoms which correlate to noteworthy IBD or Crohn’s Disease manifestations) will most assuredly capture all of the relevant changes in patient measurables during this partial intestinal obstruction.  This ensures that the occurrence of this relevant IBD medical symptom (i.e., a partial intestinal obstruction) is denoted in the patient’s medical record at the proper time and with the correct amount of scientific evidentiary impact.  More importantly, this IBD “event” is no longer a potentially unreliable anecdotal story told by the patient to an experienced Crohn’s Disease doctor weeks after it occurred, when the patient shows up for his or her next scheduled appointment.  This experienced IBD doctor has likely heard stories like this many times before (as MANY IBD patients report a connection between severe IBD flare-ups and “the change of seasons”) but the doctor has never witnessed them, that is, until now, via the patient’s IBD-wearable.

      After a significant period of time observing the data results of IBD wearables, analytical break-downs of IBD patient social media activity and continued incremental improvements in overall patient-centric healthcare technology, medical researchers focused on identifying the specific causation triggers of Crohn’s Disease, or of Crohn’s Disease flare-ups, should be closer to spotting “patterns” or identifying “factors” which, for example, tie together sudden or significant changes in the weather with intestinal obstructions and blockages in Crohn’s Disease patients. Over time, the crowdsourcing of these increasingly more precise data points in Crohn’s Disease patients should provide medical researchers with the most realistic opportunity they’ve ever had to interpret meaningful personalized data from numerous IBD patients for the purposes of  understanding the causation of Crohn’s Disease.

Crowdsourcing is now routinely used by the world’s most successful businesses

My lofty aspirations for a Crohn’s Disease cure might seem unrealistic to many long-suffering IBD patients who are reading this but please consider the following:

Automobile “Cruise Control” was invented in and around 1950 and in just a few months, in 2015, Tesla will be manufacturing fully autonomous vehicles which can DRIVE THEMSELVES by electronically  “crowdsourcing” the requisite LIVE course-plotting information necessary to safely navigate road conditions, traffic, speed limits, etc., using sensors, satellites and data from the Internet that will access and interpret traffic lights and road signs, including last-minute detours; and the Amazon Prime Instant streaming service, the digital original content streaming “Network” of Amazon.com, recently crowdsourced Amazon customers for their input on its possible Network series, “Bosch,” as it wished to test the Pilot episode of this American “police procedural television series” based around a fictional Los Angeles Police Detective, Harry Bosch, a recurring character in several commercially successful novels written by acclaimed author, Michael Connelly.

Amazon was willing to produce a Pilot episode but it did not want to commit more production dollar amounts to a possible episodic series if its customers would not watch it. Given the interwoven relationship Amazon has with its customers, it had hundreds of thousands of data points so all it took was engagement of an analytical tool which tabulated customer votes as to whether or not Amazon Prime Instant customers would be interested in ten (10) 1-hour episodes of a TV series based on the “Bosch” Pilot.  To that end, the “Bosch” Pilot episode premiered on Amazon Prime in February, 2014, and in March, 2014, Amazon Prime must have liked the crowdsourced feedback because Amazon Prime then formally announced that it had ordered a full “season” of 10 “Bosch” episodes.  On February 13, 2015, all 10 episodes of the 1st season of “Bosch” were released for viewing on the Amazon Prime Network.

The Future of Healthcare is always on the premises at “Doctors 2.0 & You”

       It would seem the upside to crowdsourcing is limitless and its uses are likely going to be increasingly diverse and perhaps even a necessary business tool for the most successful of businesses.  To that end, once patient wearables become pervasive and prolific, the convergence of increasing improvements in patient-centric healthcare technology, analytics from ALL patient social media activity & disease- and patient-specific data-mining of patient wearables will make the unthinkable, quite possible.

The Cure to Crohn’s Disease

      Accordingly, if IBD patients continue to actively and candidly participate in the different healthcare social media platforms and Crohn’s Disease-appropriate wearables are embraced by the Crohn’s Disease patient population, IBD medical researchers can presumably make viable that which has always thought to be unthinkable, namely, a cure to Crohn’s Disease.

(For a more detailed explanation of this “Crowd-Sourcing a Cure for Crohn’s Disease” hypothesis, please visit the long-form version of this Post on the journalistic blogging platform, “Medium.”)

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