Crowdsourcing Technology Directs Faster Lab Testing

October 20th, 2020

By Anne Tate & Deb Hewett-Smith

(Originally published by TalkingLabs here; republished here with their permission.)

What Is Medical Crowdsourcing Technology?

Most of us don’t really understand crowdsourcing technology, let alone how it could be used in the medical community. We know that crowdsourcing technology can leverage the internet, social media and purpose-built platforms to elicit and receive the knowledge, goods or services, enabling engagement with a broader spectrum of sources than by using conventional routes of engagement. We all have some experience with crowdsourcing on a personal level when we access medical applications such as WebMD or Mayo Clinic to match our symptoms to a possible medical diagnosis. Novel medical crowdsourcing internet sites such as SERMOsolves and CrowdMed try to resolve difficult medical cases through the collation of advice from thousands of physicians matching one-to-many.  But how does crowdsourcing help the collective human community when it comes to identifying, managing disease processes, and finding medical answers?

In healthcare, crowdsourcing has two essential components: 1) group participation and 2) sharing solutions. The key to crowdsourcing is sharing this information through such vehicles as open access digital software applications or in-person forums such as workshops, conventions or other products that promote the ubiquitous dispersion of information. Bryant provides us with interesting examples of medical crowdsourcing ranging from: projects that develop health communication materials to promote HIV testing on a global level;  crowdsourcing resources and feedback to accelerate the advancement of drugs and antibiotics and recruiting study participants through open-source models (Bryant, et. al., 2019).

Currently in the news, crowdsourcing is being used to update the public almost instantaneously about COVID-19 community prevalence and death rates, predictive hot-spots, and even information about which areas are more likely to wear masks. There is a plethora of dashboards available to the public detailing the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic that we can access on our phones and devices designed to help us make informed decisions. Publicly available information on how to control the pandemic emerges from every data source of our society: organizations, government entities and the general public.  We could also imagine that when a vaccine is available for COVID-19 crowdsourcing applications will emerge to guide our choices by disseminating key information about the availability and efficacy of the vaccine on patient populations.

How Does The Lab Fit Into Crowdsourcing Technology?

The COVID-19 pandemic fuels the need to source more laboratory testing capacity to meet the burgeoning demand across our country. It is no secret that many labs are overwhelmed with COVID-19 testing volume while other labs have excess capacity to absorb additional volume. Crowdsourcing technology is rising up as a potential answer for matching labs with spare testing capacity to healthcare providers located anywhere in the country. One of these crowdsourcing innovators is Shadowbox. They use this technology to match the turnaround time and service requirements of physician offices, long-term care and nursing facilities, schools, and colleges with labs anywhere in the U.S.

Talking Laboratories recently interviewed the CEO and Co-founder of Shadowbox, Greg Stein, to learn about their solution. “We’ve created an exchange between labs and healthcare providers. Our Shadowbox COVID-19 DX HUB crowdsources testing capacity, across the nation, no matter how large or small the lab, and makes it rapidly available, wherever it’s needed.”

How Shadowbox Matches Labs With Providers

Greg describes the power behind the Shadowbox technology is its unique capability to bring labs together with those medical practices and organizations that need COVID-19 laboratory testing. To quickly access an available lab’s testing capacity, a medical organization or healthcare provider simply signs up with Shadowbox, downloads and installs the Shadowbox HUB and selects an available lab. Shadowbox is the connector through the HUB to initiate the interactions between the provider organization and a laboratory. Once the clinician has vetted the laboratory, the lab confirms the logistics to dispatch the collection kits while the HUB transports the order to the lab and transmits the results back to the provider from the performing laboratory.

The Shadowbox HUB tracks order volume from the provider and coordinates it with an available lab resource to proactively ensure lab capacity is not exceeded. If capacity constraints are detected that could impact the desired service level and turnaround time, the provider is matched with a second laboratory that can meet the provider’s criteria. The Shadowbox crowdsourcing technology is capable of monitoring test order volume and lab testing capacity to ensure testing velocity is maintained to meet patient care needs. Integration and automation with the HUB architecture give the provider flexibility to seamlessly switch from one lab to another or add another laboratory without creating a new cost or delay in service. “Our platform is designed to rapidly ramp up to large volumes through scalable servers, load balancers, and state-of-the-art systems. In this way, we can be poised to accommodate critical high COVID-19 testing needs in preparation for the flu season and the anticipated next wave of COVID-19 infections,” says Greg.

Shadowbox believes that the use of new technologies to match clinical laboratories with providers for COVID-19 testing is a game-changer for lab testing. As Greg explains, “any provider anywhere can download and install our COVID-19 HUB and select an available lab to quickly access that lab’s capacity. We think providers and labs are looking for solutions like this that are simple to use and easy to implement. It’s a solution that really evens out the ‘patient access’ playing field and expedites lab testing to where it is needed the most, including rural and under-served communities.”

Shadowbox shared with us the key functionality they designed to bring COVID-19 testing to the right place at the right time:

  • Infrastructure – Turnkey implementation via a commercially available browser that wraps around the EHR/EMR to intelligently identify patient data, and then securely transfers the data from the order form through the browser layer. The FTP can be installed and implemented in less than a day.

  • Automation– Once the FTP is established with the Shadowbox HUB and the provider, a laboratory can be selected that meets the provider needs in test type, turnaround time expectations, and locality. The orders are automatically transferred from the provider to the laboratory with the appropriate test order and patient data. Results once available are then transmitted back to the provider through the Shadowbox HUB.

  • Security & Compliance – The Shadowbox technology utilizes a zero-trust HIPAA compliant browser wrapping around the underlying applications eliminating the potential for the introduction of malware or viruses through the application interface. Shadowbox maintains the application security protocol with multiple layers of security checks such as multi-factor authentication and login-lock outs to protect ePHI disclosure.

Building An Adaptive Marketplace Network

Using multiple send-out labs for testing is not new. Relying on outside labs to meet capacity is equally not new. What is new with the technology Shadowbox proposes is a way to share capacity and the need for that capacity on a much broader scale. The use of crowdsourcing technology-based services holds the potential for giving healthcare providers and organizations a ready-made network of laboratories across the U.S. without necessarily committing to contractual volumes or building expensive point-to-point integrations. We know by watching COVID-19 hot spots emerge across the country that the demand and supply of COVID-19 testing may not always be able to be fulfilled locally or by the typical reference lab channels. Closing the gap between buyers and sellers, irrespective of location presents an intriguing opportunity for a ‘many-to-many’ network that opens the doors to greater access to available testing resources.

Impact on You. New technologies can help providers and labs better serve their communities during a crisis or a pandemic like COVID-19. One of the keys to fighting diseases is to identify effective strategies that help you better pivot during these urgent times when the way forward or path is not clear. Becoming a part of a nationwide infrastructure platform like Shadowbox that connects testing suppliers with providers could help you mitigate risks during uncertain times.

Reference

Tucker JD, Day S, Tang W, Bayus B. 2019. Crowdsourcing in medical research: concepts and applications. PeerJ 7:e6762 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.6762