August 1st, 2008

A Medical Wiki

I like Wikipedia, and use it as a quick and easy way to get a basic understanding of things that I will later research more fully.

Working in the healthcare industry, however, I’ve come across critics — both online and off — who are concerned about the veracity and completeness of the information included in each Wikipedia entry — as well as what can be done to ensure that the information available there is medically and scientifically sound.

To me, it isn’t a huge concern. Call it critical thinking or what you like, but, just like when I was trolling through printed materials in the Round Reading Room of the British Library so many years ago, I realize that most information I find online may not be perfect or completely accurate — and so I usually try to get different opinions or perspectives, weighing the credibility and influence of each source, before drawing any conclusions.

I’m not alone in this. According to some recent surveys, when looking online for health information, people tend to turn to multiple sources. (According to a 2006 Pew survey, 72% of “health seekers visited two or more sites” — but I’ve heard others put the figure closer to 8 different sites. Whatever. The point is people are digging, digging, digging.)

Last week, there came news that there will soon be another place people can turn to for health information. This new project — Medpedia — bills itself as
a “global effort to collect, organize and make understandable, the world’s best information about health, medicine and the body.” Now according to Medpedia’s press release, Harvard Medical School, Stanford School of Medicine, the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health and the University of Michigan Medical School and dozens of other organizations around the world are going to “contribute to the Medpedia Project in various ways.”

It’s way too early to say just how successful this new medical wiki will be — but it is interesting that Medpedia will include both content from contributors that can’t be changed as well as editable content. Of course the real test will be whether people find the entries put together to be useful, credible and trustworthy. In a recent post to the Health Care Blog, Jane Sarahson-Kahn put it rather well:

It’s all about trust and credibility when it comes to accessing health information. I like the hybrid model of Medpedia — that the project’s advisers will maintain a strong clinical rein on some aspects of the content. This may achieve the magic balance between the slow world of peer-reviewed journals and the sometimes-too-fast publishing of bad medical information.

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