5 Ways Crowdsourcing supports Public Health Outcomes


From funding startups on Kickstarter to avoiding traffic with Waze to amassing a wealth of information with Wikipedia, crowdsourcing has proven to be a game-changer in several domains. Public health is no exception.

Now, what exactly is crowdsourcing? Crowdsourcing involves putting forward a task (especially in an online format) to a group of people so that it may be completed more efficiently and effectively. It leverages the creativity and collective knowledge of the masses to arrive at better solutions. Furthermore, advancements in technology have only strengthened the power of crowdsourcing by facilitating collaboration on a global scale.

Crowdsourcing citizen data helps complement and connect incomplete and fragmented data that cripples pandemic responses. This article provides more insight into how citizen engagement could have curbed the Covid-19 pandemic. The good news with crowdsourcing is that we require a small fraction of the population to participate to create statistically meaningful estimates. In fact, peer-reviewed papers have demonstrated that one life is saved for approximately every 200 citizens participating in crowdsourced exposure notification and significant benefits at even 15% adoption [Abueg2020].

It is important that we build on the lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic and make full use of citizen engagement platforms. Doing so will help fill the gaps in public health knowledge and lead to a coordinated response to fast-moving pathogens. At present there are several platforms open to citizens which use privacy-preserving crowdsourcing to improve public health, especially through exposure notification and surveillance – here is a list of five such platforms which you can visit:


  1.     PathCheck

Founded at MIT in March 2020, the PathCheck Foundation is a nonprofit with hundreds of professionals working to improve the rapid application and deployment of digital health solutions in response to fast-moving pathogens. The team at PathCheck have developed a novel computational privacy software that captures crowdsourced health information, analyzes it for public and precision health, and engages users via personalized recommendations. This toolkit provides services for each of the five steps of the pandemic progress namely, Exposure, Symptom Onset, Test, Treatment, and Vaccination.

PathCheck recognizes that large-scale participation requires citizens’ trust and engagement. To solve this, they use the unique ‘NoPeek’ approach developed at MIT. The ‘NoPeek’ algorithms are computationally hard to breach and have been rigorously reviewed with mathematical proofs for cryptographic guarantees. Several states and countries have used this PathCheck open-source software to launch exposure notification apps. This includes AlohaSafe Alert (Hawaii), COVIDaware MN (Minnesota), Guam Covid Alert (Guam), COVTracer EN (Cyprus), and more.

The team at PathCheck also created a decentralized web app, Karuna, which provides real-time updates about beds, oxygen, and hospital supplies in India. By leveraging multiple data sources including crowdsourced citizen data, Karuna has been used to help fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. This platform facilitates constructive interactions between hospital administration, doctors, and the population while remaining easy to use for all parties. 


  1.     HealthMap

Created by a team from the Boston Children’s Hospital, HealthMap is a website that monitors outbreaks such as COVID-19, Influenza, Malaria, Measles, Swine Flu and more. It monitors these outbreaks around the world by collecting data reports hourly from reputable sources such as the World Health Organization. Unlike many platforms, HealthMap covers several major cities and states around the world. Citizens can observe these real-time disease trends using the freely available HealthMap website or smartphone app.


  1.     iwaspoisoned.com


This platform is a consumer led website for diners to report suspected food poisoning or bad food experiences. Users can report food poisoning from restaurants, food products or if they have general symptoms. By aggregating and analyzing this real-time information, iwaspoisoned.com is able to help prevent food poisoning outbreaks, reduce risks and make eating a safer experience.


  1.     Outbreaks Near Me

Created by epidemiologists and software developers at Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital and a group of volunteers from across the tech industry, Outbreaks Near Me uses crowdsourced data to visualize maps to help citizens identify current and potential hotspots for COVID-19 and the annual influenza. It is a community of 6,882,928 people tracking local COVID-19 and flu outbreaks.


  1.     Yelp

Yelp is a consumer-driven platform where users can share their reviews of businesses and services. When customers feel ill after eating at a particular restaurant, many of them go straight to Yelp to share their experience. In fact, a team of computer scientists from Columbia University monitored Yelp comments using an artificial intelligence system to find clues about where and when food poisoning outbreaks were occurring. They identified 8,523 complaints of food-borne illnesses between 2012 and 2017 in New York City. It was found that many of the incidents listed on Yelp were not shared with public health officials. Thus, Yelp acts as a platform that empowers the consumer with additional knowledge about potential hotspots for food poisoning outbreaks.