Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Online Encyclopedia Provides Free Health Info for All: Within a Decade, Wikipedia Has Become One of the Most Popular Health-Content Web Sites in the World. James Heilman Talks to Fiona Fleck about How the Once Free-Wheeling Website Is Moving Closer to a Formal Publication Model

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Online Encyclopedia Provides Free Health Info for All: Within a Decade, Wikipedia Has Become One of the Most Popular Health-Content Web Sites in the World. James Heilman Talks to Fiona Fleck about How the Once Free-Wheeling Website Is Moving Closer to a Formal Publication Model

Article excerpt

Q: How have the health and medical articles evolved since Wikipedia was established?

A: Wikipedia was started in 2001 by a group of volunteers interested in sharing knowledge and had some health-care content from the start. The medical side of things was more formally organized in 2004, when internist Dr Jacob Wolff, who is based in the United Kingdom, started Wikiproject Medicine. I joined the project in 2007. Wikipedia is trying to summarize all human knowledge, which includes health knowledge. Most topics are covered and, if one is not, users can create it--as long as they provide suitable references. Wikipedia's medical and health content is driven by its editors and what they are interested in.

Q: How did you become so involved in editing health-care content?

A: We work hard to ensure that Wikipedia's content is accurate and up to date. With the open editing platform, we can donate as much or as little time as we like, and we encourage other volunteers to join us. I personally became involved when I found some poor quality content and realized that I, myself, could fix it. Later on, when I realized what a key source of public health information Wikipedia had become, I became even more involved.

Q: What have you and your colleagues built up in these eight years in terms of health-care content?

A: Wikipedia's health-care content is made up of about 25 000 articles in English and this content is viewed about 200 million times a month. The articles range from a few hundred to more than 10 000 words in length. Wikipedia is currently the most used online health-care resource globally, as measured by page view and by unique visitors, and is used extensively by professionals and the lay public alike. It is the web site most used by medical students except for Google and it is consulted by most practising physicians in the developed world.

Q: You have amassed a vast body of work that is clearly useful, but you yourselves admit that the quality is "hit and miss." What are you doing to address this?

A: We have several efforts to improve the quality of the content. As part of one of those, we have selected 80 articles in English, each covering core health or medical topics, and we are working to raise these up to a professional standard. This work is followed by a semi-formal peer review by volunteers--so far we have completed 20 articles--and, finally, translation into as many other languages as possible in collaboration with Translators Without Borders. We have already begun translation into more than 30 languages and hope that we can eventually translate this content into all of the 285 languages in which Wikipedia exists. Some of our 80 core articles are also going through a more formal peer-review process via Open Medicine, our open-access journal partner. This means that some of the content will be indexed in PubMed and there will be opportunities for the authors to get formal recognition. If put together as a textbook, these 80 articles, would run to about 2000 pages. While Wikipedia contains much content supported by the Cochrane Collaboration, we are developing a mechanism to update this in a timely fashion. Several editors are also working to persuade more health-care professionals to join us in our efforts.

Q: How did you select these 80 core topics?

A: We rank our articles by quality and importance. We have four levels of importance--low, middle, high and top importance--and there are criteria for each category. For an article to be of top importance, the content must be of global interest, covering a health condition that causes high morbidity and/or mortality. We are currently working to improve the quality of these 80 articles of top importance, to eventually give them "good article" status. That means they must undergo a semi-formal peer review and pass certain quality criteria involving accuracy, scope and referencing.

Q: What's the difference between Wikipedia and other encyclopedias? …

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