NIH and Wikimedia Foundation Collaborate …
I was in a meeting today where we were discussing the results of a survey of point of care products. Not surprisingly, Up to Date, ranked beyond high. One thing led to another and somehow we ended up discussing the use of Wikipedia by Medical Students and how some faculty believe that this is now the only (or at the very least) the primary source of their information. (well that and WebMD). Even if hyperbolic exagerration, it is a disconcering notion. What I found most disconcerting was how most of the librarians in this meeting didn’t seem disturbed by this fact. They felt that as long as the students were taught to evaluate the information then it would be ok. Don’t get me wrong, I think that learning how to evaluate the material is really important. But as a patient I’d like to believe that medical students are relying on something more than just Wikipedia for their medical research.
It was somewhat of a comfort to then come across the news release from NIH about the collaboration between NIH & Wikipedia. According to a posting on softpedia, “Wikipedia intends to limit the amount of health information submitted to the website by regular inexperienced users, and to reference, check and correct any health-related topics with the help of NIH specialists.” A recent article by Michael Laurent and Tom Vickers in the July/August 2009 issue of JAMIA, “Seeking Health Information Online: Does Wikipedia Matter?” came to the conclusion that Wikipedia ranked among the first 10 results in 71-85% of search engines and keywords tested. Due to this research and other studies indicating the popularity of Wikipedia, this collaboration seems vitally important.
Although it is too soon to see the outcome of this collaboration, the fact that Wikipedia is used so frequently in health related searches will not change. Anything that can enhance the quality and validity of health related topics online can only be to the good. I’m still not convinced that Wikipedia is the best source for Medical Students to be visiting, but I am convinced that nothing can stop the health consumer from hitting the web for information; therefore any and all measures to both enhance the quality and validity of the highly ranked web sites is vital. At the same time, libraries have got to take a strong lead in educating all users in evaluation skills.