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Wired Science

Ask Strangers for Medical Advice

By Aaron Rowe Email Author | August 20, 2009 | Categories: BiologyHealthMedicine

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Some people just can’t get rid of their acne, or chronic pain, or psoriasis, no matter what treatment their doctor recommends. Now, just like looking for a hotel recommendation, they can turn to strangers with the same ailments for advice at an online community called CureTogether.

The website is much like Yelp, but its members review remedies, instead of restaurants and barber shops. It allows anyone who is facing a tough medical decision to draw upon the experience of crowds.

“People with acne report treatments they have tried and rank how well they worked,” said Alexandra Carmichael, co-founder of the website. “Everyone else with acne can then see the community stats.”

The same goes for 350 other conditions including migraines, insomnia, irritable bowel, and acid reflux.

Whole Foods and other retailers peddle countless alternative medicine products, but there is very little data about whether those substances work, and even less incentive for a big drug companies to find out. This may be part of what is driving a trend toward DIY health tracking.

Though it’s not a substitute for professional medical care, members of the CureTogether community can share their experiences with every treatment they’ve tried and help others decide what to buy, how to change their behavior, or what to ask their doctor. Every bit of that user data is also available to researchers, so it could potentially cut the cost of evidence-based medicine research, studies that aim to evaluate the effectiveness of medical treatments.

To keep shameless drugmakers or herbmongers from tainting their information like disgruntled diners and restaurant owners try to do on Yelp at times, CureTogether has several security measures in place, including some active analysis of their log files.

Even if some bad apples make their way into the community, it may still be a better source of information than some peer-reviewed literature, since top scientists have been caught fabricating data about medications and Elsevier has published entire fake journals dedicated to bolstering the reputation of Merck drugs.

Image: Statistics showing a variety of acne treatments and how effective they are./CureTogether

Original article at http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/08/curetogether/