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Researcher: Crowdsourcing could improve care, save money

May 15, 2014

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Everyone agrees that Veterans should have a say in the care they receive, but one VA researcher is taking it a step farther. Dr. Michael Weiner of the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, who authored an article in the March 2014 edition of the journal The Patient: Patient-Centered Outcomes Research, suggests the medical community, VA included, should adopt crowdsourcing techniques to ensure patients have a voice.

"We could understand how patients feel about policies under development and develop patient-centered solutions that we hadn't even considered before, says Weiner.

Crowdsourcing, or the process of outsourcing a problem to a large audience, isn't new. The news media regularly uses crowdsourcing for story ideas, and popular websites like Wikipedia.org are built on a crowdsourcing model—an encyclopedia written and edited entirely by the public.

Still, it is not a tool typically associated with health care. Nevertheless, Weiner believes crowdsourcing can result in the kind of tailored medical care Veterans want, and at a lower cost.

"Patients could contribute ideas for research or care, and not just those enrolled in VA. We could also reach Veterans who don't receive care from us, and that could help us better understand the population as a whole. By streamlining processes and considering what patients want, we'd be able to save money on services they don't want."

Weiner, who is also an associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and a scientist at the Regenstrief Institute, is quick to point out that crowdsourcing has its pitfalls. Data can skew to one audience or another depending on how it is collected, and responses can be biased. "It does take work," says Weiner, "and maybe some new strategies for understanding the metrics."

Weiner points to the popularity of social media and suggests these media could play a greater role in helping VA drive Veteran engagement in care. "With the way the Internet has grown, and the ways in which we can connect to patients across a wide geographic area, we could collect information more easily and efficiently," he says. "Veterans would be able to seek answers to their care and provide feedback. This is something they should be doing anyway."

"This is part of what patient-centered care is about," says Weiner. "Crowdsourcing isn't the solution to every problem, but it's a useful approach and a low-cost way to understand solutions not just from VA's point of view, but from the patient's point of view."



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