Better Than Dr. House: Q&A with Jared Heyman

In his TEDMED talk, entrepreneur Jared Heyman revealed how crowd wisdom can help solve even the most elusive medical mysteries. We got in touch with Jared to ask about what inspired his work, and for any tips he has to share with other innovators.

Jared speaking at TEDMED 2014
Jared speaking at TEDMED 2014

Why does your talk matter now? What do you hope people learn from it?

Hyper-specialization in medicine has created a world where no doctor can possibly know everything, yet we still hold onto the “Dr. House” archetype – the idea that a physician should be an omniscient genius who can single-handedly solve even the most challenging medical mystery. The reality is that crowds are wiser than even the smartest individual in the world, so long as the right mechanism is in place to aggregate their collective intelligence. That is the biggest takeaway from my talk.

What advice would you give to other aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs?

We all have an inner voice that guides our life path, yet it’s often drowned out by the noise of others’ expectations of us. Take some time off to listen to that voice, whether through meditation, a weekend retreat, or an extended sabbatical if you can afford the time and expense. I took off two years to travel the world and listen to my inner voice, and I emerged from it with a crystal clear vision of what my next company (and my life) should become.

Who or what has been your main source of inspiration that drives you to innovate?

My inspiration to start CrowdMed was my little sister Carly, who spent 3 years with an unsolved medical mystery that nearly killed her. Over the period, our parents brought her to 16 different medical specialists and racked up over $100,000 in medical bills, desperately seeking a diagnosis. Each doctor would treat her symptoms as best they could, but none could identify the root cause of her illness. We’d later discover that she had a rare disease that affects just 1 in 15,000 females. Her doctors had never heard of it, much less seen it.  

Having spent years studying “the wisdom of crowds”, I knew that intellectually diverse online crowds could help solve cases like hers much more quickly than individual experts, but existing online tools like medical forums and social networks just weren’t built to aggregate their collective intelligence. I therefore created an early prototype of what eventually became CrowdMed, and using this system, a hundred people came up with her correct diagnosis in just few days and at negligible cost. That’s when I devoted myself full-time to founding the company.  

Do you have any recommended reading for people who are interested in your topic and want to learn more?

The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki.