Do a Google search and invariably you’ll see Wikipedia is often one of the top links delivered in your search results. User statistics for the English version of Wikipedia for the end of August 2009 show the site has 8,031,236 visitors an hour.
Many people question whether Wikipedia is a reliable source of information. A study by Nature in 2005 concluded that Wikipedia (at that time) came close to the Encyclopedia Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries. I’ve heard a number of lecturers both at Dundee and in other medical schools say that students should not use Wikipedia to look for information, whilst other lecturers admit they have used it for quick reference. Speaking to some students, they’ve mentioned that they use Wikipedia as a first port of call to get an overview of a topic before going on to refer to peer-reviewed journals etc.
So should students use Wikipedia as a source of medical information? How does it stack up? Do doctors make the effort to edit any inaccuracies they spot? There’s an interesting overview of Wikipedia and whether it should be used as a source of medical infromation, ‘The Trouble with using Wikipedia as a source of medical information‘, on Laika’s MedLibLog. Laika (Jaqueline) is a medical librarian in Amsterdam and blogs about medical librarianship, evidence-based medicine, medical information and the Cochrane Collaboration. Laika’s post about Wikipedia highlights some important points and issues about the accuracy of information on the site and reports on how Wikipedia are taking steps to address some of these issues and also how groups such as the NIH and journals such as RNA Biology are encouraging scientists and experts to edit and initiate entries in Wikipedia.
Laika suggests that a possible solution to the problems with Wikipedia is a medical wikipedia. Ganfyd and Medpedia are two examples of medical wikis but these are very much works in progress. Is this the way forward or should we be encouraging doctors to edit Wikipedia to improve the reliability of what’s there given that we know that other doctors, students and patients all use it as a source of information. In response to a post by Anne Marie Cunningham on her informal survey of 1st year medical students use of Wikipedia at Cardiff Medical School, Chris Dawson advocates that we should be encouraging students to edit Wikipedia rather than use it. Chris says
It wouldn’t take many medical schools requiring a “Web 2.0 Medical Resources” course focusing on available information, credibility, and online research to drastically increase the utility of Wikipedia and its ilk for both the medical community and patients.
What do you think? Are all medical students aware of the issues concerning the accuracy and impartiality of some of the articles relating to medical information in Wikipedia or do we take it for granted that they know this? Should we be encouraging students to edit articles which are factaully inaccurate or should those of us involved in medical education be taking that task on rather than starting another medical wiki?