The Food And Drug Administration is trying something new to tackle a massive paper backlog: Amazon Mechanical Turk, a popular marketplace for low-cost freelance digital piecework. At the Amazon Web Services re:Invent Conference in Las Vegas, the FDA announced they're partnering with OCR firm Captricity—which uses Mechanical Turk—to take care of months of unprocessed drug accident safety reports. Even before the government shutdown, the FDA publicly complained about "unforeseen issues in data entry operations" slowing the processing of drug safety reports. The reports Captricity will be working on list unforeseen side effects from drugs already on the market.
Captricity, recently profiled in Fast Company, is a HIPAA-compliant (in other words, maintaining the same privacy standards as medical professionals) scanning service which digitally "shreds" sensitive data and uses a combination of scanning and manual data entry by Mechanical Turk workers to digitize paper forms. According to Captricity, the company's solution in proof of concept testing was just as accurate as manual data entry for the FDA, but eight times cheaper and 50 times faster.
This marks one of the first times Mechanical Turk has been used by the government on this scale, whether directly or through a subcontractor. Previous attempts by government agencies to use crowdsourcing have been on a much smaller scale, making this an interesting precedent.