Could Kickstarter Work in Health Care?

FEATUREDCrowdfunding is about speeding processes up. It allows virtually anyone with a good idea to access potential financers who could catapult it to fruition. In the field of science, it could also slow researchers down.

Say a research idea gains popular support, and with crowdsourced funding, the academic who proposed the project is able to proceed. Years might pass before the research is complete and it is time to submit the results to a peer-reviewed journal. Is it possible that because the idea was funded by civilians, and not the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation, that the results would be deemed meritless? If that’s the case, then years of work will have gone to waste.

For a long list of researchers’ reservations about crowdfunded science, see the Reddit thread “Why Isn’t there a Kickstarter for Scientific Research?

There actually is at least one crowdfunding platform dedicated to science. Microryza is a research fundraising site with specific sections for biology, medicine and psychology. Additionally, just this week, a proposed crowdfunding site for patient-focused research studies received some funding of its own.

WellSpringboard, a concept from the University of Michigan Health System, won a $40,000 prize through the PCORI Patient-Researcher Matching Challenge. PCORI, which stands for the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, is a non-profit that funds research with the aim of providing evidence-based information for patients, caregivers, and clinicians. The challenge was held in collaboration with Health 2.0.

The WellSpringboard prototype was developed by the U-M team in response to PCORI’s specific call for the creation of a “matching system” for patients and scientists who want to conduct research together. They came up with a site that looks a lot like other crowdfunding platforms in that users can create a description and upload a video about their proposal.

“We want to bring the public’s voice into the world of health research, to allow them to ask for answers to questions that are most important to patients of all ages and the people who care for them,” Matthew Davis, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System, said in a press release.

Davis’ initiative is part of a small but growing movement to invite patients to help shape the way that a portion of medical research is conducted. As different care models begin to require that providers focus on patient-centered care, it has become evident that this would be facilitated by data from patient-centered research. In order to work on collecting this kind of data, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded PatientsLikeMe a $1.9 million grant to create patient- and researcher-approved health outcome measures.

WellSpringboard will also be heavily researcher-influenced. They will be encouraged to participate in the exchange of ideas by submitting their own proposals. Plus they’ll have the final say over which projects take off because they’ll be the ones deciding which ones, if any, are worth it for them to lead.

The site is currently just a prototype, but the U-M team said it would use the money awarded to them this week to move WellSpringboard toward launch.

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