How one Canadian doctor crowdsourced life-saving treatment for E. coli


Most people might think social networks are just for connecting with friends, but in the case of one Canadian girl, a social network likely saved her life.

SERMO, a social network for medical physicians to share their thoughts on work and life, also allows its users to crowdsource medical advice from an international network consisting of physicians from countries like South Africa, the United States, Canada, and Australia.

So when Canadian doctor John Fernandes posted a case of a four-year-old girl who was diagnosed with a deadly strain of E. coli, he sought advice on treatments and ways to find the source of the contamination. The same infection had killed her brother two weeks earlier.

Within a few hours of posting, a gastroenterologist from the U.S. responded, “you need to keep these patients in the hospital until they are better… Get CDC involved in tracing, you can’t do that yourself.” The gastroenterologist also asked, “do they eat out habitually? Salad bars, cold cut meats, salads et cetera? You want to do everything to prevent intravascular dehydration.”

A South African general practitioner shared more advice, recommending the treatment that ultimately cured the patient. “In your search for the contamination source, involve places visited, parties they went to etc. Keep the patient in hospital until they are well. Add probiotics to the treatment,” they said.

Within 12 days, the patient was cured thanks to the advice of doctors in the network. Forty-six doctors ended up responding to the post, including nephrologists and paediatricians, though the source of the infection was never identified.

“Allowing doctors to work effectively as teams seamlessly across borders is at the heart of our mission,” said Peter Kirk, CEO of SERMO. “This is what SERMO is all about and I applaud all our physicians for contributing.”

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Freelance tech writer. Former BetaKit News Editor.

0 replies on “How one Canadian doctor crowdsourced life-saving treatment for E. coli”