Dr. Wikipedia: The 'Double-Edged Sword' Of Crowd-Sourced Medicine | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Dr. Wikipedia: The 'Double-Edged Sword' Of Crowd-Sourced Medicine

Play associated audio

Wikipedia has become a go-to source for definitions, celebrity facts, and now, medical information. A study by the IMS Health Institute published in January names Wikipedia as the "single leading source" of health care information for both patients and health care professionals.

Unfortunately, some of that information is wrong.

"I think that's the double-edged sword of Wikipedia," Dr. Amin Azzam tells NPR's Arun Rath. "Because anyone can edit, we don't necessarily know the expertise of the people doing the editing. One the other hand, the reason it's so popular is because everyone can contribute."

Azzam is a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. He teaches a course that encourages fourth-year medical students to use their knowledge to improve Wikipedia, one article at a time. The syllabus is, of course, posted on Wikipedia.

Students choose one article from the top 100 most-read medical articles on the site and work on it throughout the course. For example, one of his students updated information about how long an HIV test can present a false negative result.

Azzam says there's a lot of room for improving the quality of Wikipedia in the medical domain because doctors are late-comers to the resource.

"In the health care community, we're used to learning from wisened professors above us," says Azzam. "My generation absolutely pooh-poohed Wikipedia, and now I'm finding that all my med students, they use that first because it's written in a way that they understand as they are learning to become doctors."

Azzam says it was fun watching the students work and realize that editing the articles is harder than they expected. They have to make decisions about how to order symptoms and how to remove jargon to make the information understandable.

"It's not just adding references and not just improving the gaps," Azzam says, "but thinking about how to make it more readable and more digestible for the people that are reading Wikipedia."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

In An Earthquake, History Fuels One Writer's Anxiety

An earthquake in Napa Valley this week brought back old fears for author Gustavo Arellano. In his anxiety he's revisiting the book A Crack in the Edge of the World.
NPR

Real Vanilla Isn't Plain. It Depends On (Dare We Say It) Terroir

There's no such thing as plain vanilla — at least if you're talking about beans from the vanilla orchid. Whether it's from Tahiti or Madagascar, vanilla can be creamy, spicy or even floral.
NPR

Federal Judge Blocks Texas Restriction On Abortion Clinics

Requiring every center that performs abortions to meet all the standards of a surgical center is excessively restrictive, says the federal district court judge who blocked the state rule Friday.
NPR

An App Can Reveal When Withdrawal Tremors Are Real

You probably haven't thought about whether your phone could help diagnose alcohol withdrawal. Well, it can. An app for doctors measures tremors and may help tell if someone's faking it to get drugs.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.