You’re a loyal THCB reader. You have a symptom. You Google it. One of the first three hits will be an entry about the symptom or an associated condition on Wikipedia.
As an informed lay person, you wonder, “How accurate is Wikipedia for medical information?”
You’ve always been a little skeptical of Wikipedia, but over the years you’ve found it more and more reliable for celebrity tidbits (e.g. “How old is Jane Lynch?” or “What was the name of that guy in “Crash?”) and sports trivia (“How many Super Bowls have the Minnesota Vikings lost?”).
In fact, it’s become quite useful for understanding geopolitics, ancient and recent history, and helping explain science topics (Higgs Boson, anyone?).
So why not medicine?
We in academic medicine look down our noses at Wikipedia. “Show us original texts,” we harrumph. “Where does the original data come from?” we ask our residents and students.
Just like high schoolers and college kids are warned NOT to use Wikipedia as a research tool, medical professors hold the site lowly in regard to seriousness of purpose.
Well, it’s time to accept reality.
We all use it, whether we admit it or not. Some of us a lot. The good news is, Wikipedia’s going to get even better in the medical realm.
In a smart win-win, an enterprising clinical teacher at the University of California @ San Francisco Medical School will offer course credit to senior (4th year) medical students for updating and improving Wikipedia articles on medical topics.
“We as a profession have our corpus of knowledge, and we owe it as a profession to educate the lay public,” said Dr. Amin Azzam, a health sciences associate clinical professor at the U.C.S.F. School of Medicine who will teach the monthlong elective course in December.
I like what Dr. Azzam says–we owe it as a profession to educate the lay public. In the ultimate academic bargain, these students are going to make their work count twice-and many times over. Classwork for course credit, that goes out into the cloud and is useful to many other people. With an emphasis on lay people being able to read and understand it.
All medical information should be conveyed that way.
John H. Schumann, MD (@GlassHospital) is a general internist and medical educator at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine in Tulsa, OK . He is also author of the blog, GlassHospital , where this post originally appeared.