Debunking the myth of the lone maverick, health researchers suggest that groups of doctors outperform individuals not only in diagnosing problems but also in treating them.
Sometime in 1995, an e-mail from China arrived in my inbox with a desperate request for medical advice. I was a naïve medical student at Johns Hopkins University and an early adopter of the modem; the e-mail’s author was identified only as “Peking University.” In broken English, the message described a 21-year-old woman who had felt sick to her stomach and within days lost all her hair. This problem went away, but a few months later, “She Began to facial paralysis, central muscle of eye’s paralysis, self-controlled respiration disappeared,” and needed to be put on a ventilator. “This is the first time that Chinese try to find help from Internet,” the message explained. “Please send back e-mail to us.” With immature confidence I consulted some texts and replied that maybe she had a weird form of lupus. I never heard back and figured it was a prank.
The following year at the supermarket, I was browsing the August issue of Reader’s Digest and saw a piece titled “Rescue on the Internet.” It turned out that I wasn’t the only one who’d replied to the posting, and the whole thing had not been a hoax. Incredibly, hundreds of doctors had seen the brief message and correctly determined that the patient was being poisoned by a tasteless, odorless heavy metal called thallium. Soon after, Chinese doctors were able to give an antidote to save the woman’s life. (She did end up permanently disabled.)
I get those emails all the time…