(Be sure to check out the List of Medical Wikis)
You might remember Bertalan Meskó from the recent article from Nature Medicine on Medical Wikis. He’s a 22-year-old medical student at the University of Debrecen, Hungary who writes a whole lot of medical articles for Wikipedia and is the administrator of the Medicine WikiProject. He is interviewed in MedScape this week:
Med Student Helping Shape Medicine on the ‘Net
(Free subscription may be required to view).
Dr. Genes: Do you think it’s safe for doctors to use Wikipedia? Some say that it’s dangerous, since the editing is open to anyone. It’s okay if a term paper has a mistake, but not drug dosage information. Are some medical entries in Wikipedia “locked” to prevent tampering?
Bertalan Meskó: Of course it’s safe. Wiki entries are made for laymen, not doctors. If you want to know more about doses, you have to go to PubMed or Ask Dr. Wiki. That’s why I’m not worried about it.
Among the things that trouble me about Meskó’s response:
- “Wiki entries” aren’t meant for anyone generally. Wikipedia entries might be intended for laypeople, but to suggest that all Wikis are intended for laypeople is not only incorrect, but contradicted by the second part of Meskó’s response. (Tangentally, I’m becoming a litle frustrated with the popular misconception that a Wiki isn’t really a Wiki unless it is a completely open endeavor and intended for popular use. Wiki is a kind of Web site platform that allows multiple users to collaborate without the need for knowledge of Web markup languages.)
- I don’t follow Meskó’s logic that health information in Wikipedia is harmless, even if inaccurate, because it is written for laypeople.
- Meskó is right in saying that if the information seeker is looking for information about dosage, PubMed is a good place to start looking- but AskDrWiiki, until recently, had no restrictions on who could edit it, making it hardly more authoritative than Wikipedia. Would Meskó actually look to AskDrWiki for dosage information without confirming it elsewhere?
I don’t intend to disparage Meskó’s work on Wikipedia (which has been impressively voluminous and probably quite good), but his attitude towards the need for authoritative sources worries me.
There’s nothing wrong with looking to Wikipedia for an initial overview of a topic, and I routinely use it for that purpose. It can be a wonderfully handy way to start making notes for more involved research. It worries me, though, to think that anyone would STOP their research of a medical topic at Wikipedia.
I know that a handful of physicians, nurses and other clinical professionals stop by this blog now and then. If any are reading, please share your opinion: Would you recommend that your patients seek answers to their health questions with Wikipedia? Given the choice between Wikipedia and MedlinePlus, which would you sooner direct patients to (and why)? Would you think it appropriate if a colleague decided on a dosage based solely on a Wiki article editable by anyone who registered?
To readers who are not clinical professionals: How would you feel if your doctor decided on your medication dosage based on an article from a Wiki editable by anyone without checking it elsewhere?