[Wikimedia Announcements] Press release: "Wikipedia can promote health worldwide, say doctors"

Michaël Laurent michael.laurent at gmail.com
Wed Feb 2 17:28:20 UTC 2011


*Wikipedia can promote health worldwide, say doctors*


Heilman JM, Kemmann E, Bonert M, Chatterjee A, Ragar B, Beards GM, Iberri
DJ, Harvey M, Thomas B, Stomp W, Martone MF, Lodge DJ, Vondracek A, de Wolff
JF, Liber C, Grover SC, Vickers TJ, Meskó B, Laurent MR. "Wikipedia as a key
tool for global public health promotion". *Journal of Medical Internet
Research*. http://www.jmir.org/2011/1/e14/


*Sept, 2010 *- A group of doctors, scientists and medical students who write
Wikipedia's medical articles call on their peers to join them in their
efforts to provide the sum of all medical knowledge free to the world at

In a viewpoint paper published in the peer-reviewed *Journal of Medical
Internet Research *(JMIR, the leading journal on medical informatics), they
argue that the possibilities to use Wikipedia as a tool for worldwide health
promotion are underestimated, citing its unique global reach and examples of
how the Internet encyclopedia is used in humanitarian projects.

The authors are all members of Wikipedia's project that manages the
health-related content. They note that both doctors and patients commonly
seek health information online. Patients usually turn to search engines like
Google for health-related queries, and previous research by these authors
has shown that Wikipedia appears among those results in around 75% of cases

*Wikipedia's medical content broad and fairly accurate*

Based on a review of existing studies of Wikipedia's medical content, the
paper concludes that Wikipedia has articles on an incredibly wide range of
medical topics with few factual errors, although most of Wikipedia's
articles are only in the earliest stages of development and the readability
needs to be improved.

"*With more than 20,000 articles on health and more than 6,000 drug-related
articles, there has never been more freely accessible health information on
the Internet thanks to Wikipedia. But now we need more experts to expand
these articles and to make them more accessible to the general public at the
same time,*" says Dr. Michaël Laurent, the article's corresponding author.

Although critics have questioned Wikipedia's open editorial policy and
examples of errors have been widely published, the authors point out that
the encyclopedia has developed multiple strategies to prevent damage to its
articles (including the use of vandalism fighting software, automated
correction scripts, page protection, edit filters, blocking and banning).

*Calling all doctors to contribute*

Since WikiProject Medicine was founded by one of the authors (Dr. Jacob F.
de Wolff) in April 2004, more than 200 editors (ranging from laypeople and
students to doctors, nurses and professors) have registered at the virtual
'doctor's mess', where Wikipedia's medical content is discussed and
coordinated. Over the years, the project has developed guidelines about
writing good medical articles and finding reliable medical references.
"Wikipedia lends itself very well to evidence-based medicine," the article

The group proposes that physicians may contribute to Wikipedia for several
reasons, including the intellectual challenge to summarize a medical topic
for the general public and the satisfaction that comes from editing an
important source of medical information, watching the articles grow and rise
among Google results, often outperforming review articles in leading medical

"*Wikipedia has an incredible audience. While one may not get accolades for
what they contribute here, what one writes matters,*" comments lead author
James Heilman, MD.

"*I've written several articles which became the number one Google result
for that topic after only a few days, surpassing reviews in core journals or
information from universities and professional societies. Writing for
Wikipedia means that you get to write what people will be reading,*" Dr.
Laurent explains.

Direct financial or scholarly incentives to promote editing of Wikipedia are
still lacking, but the authors suggest several options, like giving doctors
CME credits for editing Wikipedia.

Some areas of Wikipedia's medical content are controversial, and the authors
sometimes have had to deal with fringe theories and quackery. But they say
this should not deter interested medical contributors because plenty of
non-controversial work needs to be done. Furthermore, Wikipedia has strict
policies against personal threats to editors, and examples of real-life
consequences are rare (Dr. Heilman has in the past been investigated -and
acquitted- for adding all inkblots to the Wikipedia article on the Rorschach
test; see New York Times, Aug 23,

*Wikipedia as a global platform for health knowledge*

The paper explains how the encyclopedia could be used as a global platform
for disseminating medical knowledge. Wikipedia's format has proven to foster
mass collaboration, the encyclopedia exists in over 250 languages and its
content is available under a copyleft license.

The article also cautions against the waste of human resources caused by the
spread of experts across medical wikis (over 70 of which exist), none of
which have attracted a similar 'long tail' of editors or a similar global
audience (for a previous discussion on this topic, see the News feature in
Nature Medicine,

The authors point to recent collaborations with the National Institutes of
Health, Google.org (the philanthropic arm of Google) and the Rfam RNA
database, which they believe shows the enthusiasm for Wikipedia as a key
source for online biomedical information.


[1] Laurent MR, Vickers TJ. Seeking health information online: does
Wikipedia matter? <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19390105> J Am Med
Inform Assoc. 2009 Jul-Aug;16(4):471-9.



   James M. Heilman, MD, CCFP(EM) is an emergency physician at the
   Department of Emergency Medicine at Moose Jaw Union Hospital, Moose Jaw,
   Canada. He is also associated with the University of Saskatchewan College of
   Medicine in Saskatoon, Canada.


   Eckhard Kemmann, MD, FACOG is a retired faculty member at the Department
   of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, UMDNJ-Robert Wood,
   Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States.


   Michael Bonert, MD, MASc is an anatomical pathology resident at the
   Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto,
   Toronto, Canada.


   Anwesh Chatterjee, MRCP is a respiratory medicine specialty registrar at
   the Department of Respiratory Medicine, Poole General Hospital, Poole,
   United Kingdom.


   Brent Ragar, MD is an attending physician at the Departments of Internal
   Medicine and Pediatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical
   School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States.


   Graham M. Beards, DSc is a specialist biomedical and clinical scientist
   in microbiology at Walsall Manor Hospital, Walsall, United Kingdom.


   David J. Iberri is a medical student at the University of Vermont College
   of Medicine, Burlington, Vermont, United States.


   Matthew Harvey, BMed is an anatomical pathology registrar at the
   Anatomical Pathology Department, Pathology Queensland, Royal Brisbane and
   Women’s Hospital, Brisbane, Australia. He is also an associate lecturer at
   the Division of Cellular and Molecular Pathology, School of Medicine,
   University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.


   Brendan Thomas, MD is a dermatology resident at the department of
   Dermatology, University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, United States.


   Wouter Stomp, MD is a PhD candidate at the Department of Radiology,
   Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands.

   Michael F. Martone is a medical student at Rush University Medical
   College, Chicago, Illinois, United States.


   Daniel J. Lodge, MD is a resident at the Department of Cardiac Surgery,
   University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.


   Andrea Vondracek, PhD is a post-doctoral researcher at the department of
   Immunology, University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and National
   Jewish Health, Denver, Colorado, United States.


   Jacob F. de Wolff, MRCP is an emergency physician at the Department of
   Acute Medicine, West Middlesex University Hospital, London, United Kingdom.

   Casimir Liber, MBBS, FRANZCP is a psychiatrist at the Department of
   Psychiatry, Bankstown Health Service, Sydney, Australia, and a conjoint
   lecturer at the School of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of New
   South Wales, Sydney, Australia.


   Samir C. Grover, MD, FRCPC is an assistant professor of medicine at the
   Division of Gastroenterology, St. Michael's Hospital, University of Toronto,
   Toronto, Canada.


   Tim J. Vickers, MSc, PhD is a staff scientist at the Department of
   Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis,
   Missouri, United States.

   Bertalan Meskó, MD is a PhD candidate at the Medical School and Health
   Science Center, University of Debrecen, Debrecen, Hungary.

   Dr. Michaël R. Laurent is a specialty registrar in internal medicine at
   the Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospitals Leuven, Leuven,

 *Contact information*

Interested members of the press may contact the authors via e-mail:

michael.laurent at gmail.com or jmh649 at gmail.com <michael.laurent at gmail.com>.

*About the Journal*

The *Journal of Medical Internet Research *is the leading peer-reviewed
scientific journal in the field of medical Informatics, with an impact
factor of 3.9 in 2009.

*About Wikipedia*

Wikipedia ( http://www.wikipedia.org ) is a multilingual, free-content
online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute. Wikipedia and its sister
projects are operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, a registered

Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has grown rapidly into one of the
largest reference web sites, attracting 398 million visitors monthly as of
September 2010. There are more than 82,000 active contributors working on
more than 35 million articles and files in more than 270 languages. The
English Wikipedia currently contains more than 3.5 million articles.
According to Internet marketing research companies like comScore and Alexa,
Wikipedia is among the ten most visited websites worldwide, and it is the
only non-profit organization in the top ten.
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