Crowdsourcing in medical research: concepts and applications

PeerJ. 2019 Apr 12;7:e6762. doi: 10.7717/peerj.6762. eCollection 2019.


Crowdsourcing shifts medical research from a closed environment to an open collaboration between the public and researchers. We define crowdsourcing as an approach to problem solving which involves an organization having a large group attempt to solve a problem or part of a problem, then sharing solutions. Crowdsourcing allows large groups of individuals to participate in medical research through innovation challenges, hackathons, and related activities. The purpose of this literature review is to examine the definition, concepts, and applications of crowdsourcing in medicine. This multi-disciplinary review defines crowdsourcing for medicine, identifies conceptual antecedents (collective intelligence and open source models), and explores implications of the approach. Several critiques of crowdsourcing are also examined. Although several crowdsourcing definitions exist, there are two essential elements: (1) having a large group of individuals, including those with skills and those without skills, propose potential solutions; (2) sharing solutions through implementation or open access materials. The public can be a central force in contributing to formative, pre-clinical, and clinical research. A growing evidence base suggests that crowdsourcing in medicine can result in high-quality outcomes, broad community engagement, and more open science.

Keywords: Collective intelligence; Crowdsourcing; Literature review; Open source model; Theory.

Grant support

This study received support from the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFE0103800), the National Institutes of Health (NIAID 1R01AI114310-01, NIAID K24AI143471, NICHD UG3HD096929), the UNC Center for AIDS Research (NIAID 5P30AI050410), and the North Carolina Translational & Clinical Sciences Institute (1UL1TR001111). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.