SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A San Francisco-based website is helping people solve mystery medical illnesses without the help of a doctor.

Doctors hadn’t been able to figure out why Alan Ungar has had aching feet for 25-years, keeping him from skiing and backpacking with his wife.

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“It’s all the time.  It’s more intense when I’m doing more activity,” Ungar said.

So, Alan posted his case on CrowdMed, which has seen over 450 cases of mystery illnesses.

CrowdMed’s average patient has been sick for eight years, racking up over $50,000 in medical bills.

“More than half our patients tell us the crowd’s brought them closer to a correct diagnosis of a cure,” CrowdMed co-founder Jared Heyman said.

Anyone can join the pool of thousands of medical detectives who study medical problems.

“If you have a big crowd of fifty people, they’re unlikely to overlook something that one, two, or three doctors may overlook,” according to Heyman.

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Patients submit their records anonymously with a $50 refundable deposit.  Detectives bet points on what they think is wrong.  Larger deposits attract more medical detectives, and winnings are split between those who come up with the right answer.

“Many of our diagnoses are rare or difficult to diagnose,” Heyman said.

But, Ungar decided to take his results from CrowdMed to his physician.  Medical ethicist David Magnus warns patients not to use the site to replace their doctor.

“It’s a fundamentally different relationship. And the more that medical care turns in this direction, something very profound will be lost about the clinician-patient relationship,Magnus said.

CrowdMed gave Ungar five diagnoses, one of which his doctor hadn’t considered.  Even though he was tested for that illness, Ungar’s results came back negative.

“Even though my case isn’t solved, I’m satisfied,” Ungar said, adding that the crowd brought him a step closer to solving his medical mystery.

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