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Ask Dr Wiki vs medicine in Wikipedia

Dr. Brian Jefferson and Dr. Ken Civello have sent me kind letters, gave permission to edit Ask Dr Wiki and asked me to tell them my opinion from a point of view of a Wikipedia editor. I’d like to compare these wikis, to point out their differences and find out how we could work together.

Let’s see the mission statement of AskDrWiki:

Dr Wiki is a collaborative medical website made by physicians for physicians, medical students, and healthcare providers. Its purpose is to serve as a online repository of medical information that can be accessed by anyone. Since your lab coat is only so big and you may forget everything you learned last month you need an online repository to store important facts, differentials, figures and other medical information.

I love this as we know exactly that Wikipedia is made for laypeople. We mustn’t include too deep medical train of thoughts even if it’s important regarding the content of an article (just see the genetics part of Coeliac disease). That’s why Ask Dr Wiki could fill this gap with real medical pieces of information. A video of an angiography isn’t essential in a Wikipedia article, but Ask Dr Wiki can collect many of them without causing any problem and also helping physicians, medstudents to learn more.


Ken Civello asked me whether a medical wiki created by experts could be more reliable than Wikipedia’s medical articles. Well, I don’t think so. Yes, of course, it’d be more reliable, but it’s not the point. Wikipedia’s medical entries are created and maintained by about a hundred editors (just some of them are physicians, academics). If those articles are well-referenced, then those should be reliable. It’s not a question of credentials, but references. Wikipedia articles must contain relevant information for laypeople.

Ask Dr Wiki could be the main online repository for physicians, residents and medical students. That’s how I see this question. Let’s take a look at what I’d change or do in order to improve this great idea (some of them will be minor, others will be major suggestions):

  • Better logo
  • The most important part: many more editors. Now, AskDrWiki has 43 users (3 users are already blocked vandals) and only 18 were granted permission to become real editors.
  • I’d suggest a Help namespace to be able to differentiate the help pages from the articles themselves.
  • I know that it was going to become a cardiology wiki, but now they have new goals, just like starting new specialties. Like that, AskDrWiki could get hundreds of medical editors.
  • The recent changes special page must be shown on the main page. It helps readers and users to keep track with the changes. That page presents the working rate of a wiki.
  • I’d like to see a proper page about the required credentials to know what we have to do to be able to edit.
  • The blog is interesting too but it’s not part of the medical blogosphere. A blog with images and topics like this one should play a bigger role in the medical blogosphere (Grand rounds submissions, links, Technorati rankings, etc.).
  • You could also use Wikipedia’s manuel of style (created for medicine-related articles) to create similarly constructed articles.

Medical Barnstar of Wikipedia

That’s all. I’m really thankful to Kenny Civello M.D., M.P.H, Shane Bailey M.D., Mike McWilliams M.D. at Cleveland Clinic Electrophysiology and Brian Jefferson M.D at Cleveland Clinic Interventional Cardiology for constructing this wiki and for their goals. They’re on the first part of the way, but I belive this is a good way. And so, Ask Dr Wiki could become the collective online memory for physicians, fellows, residents, and medical students.

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Absolutely right! I’m currently in a fight to the death with some of my associates about the accuracy of Wikipedia. All the data I have generated says it is accurate, but they’ve read derogatory articles in the press, so they won’t believe it.

    March 24, 2007
  2. Media loves killing our works. If we have a fantastic article (just like Tourette syndrome), nobody will talk about it. But if a scandal rises, we’re beaten to death…

    March 24, 2007
  3. There is a flip side to this coin. My thoughts about medical advice on Wikipedia:

    Thanks, George

    March 24, 2007
  4. I agreed there with you. Dosage instructions mustn’t be included in Wikipedia.

    March 25, 2007
  5. Attis #

    AskDrWiki is a brilliant idea. However, it needs much work before it can be half as useful as Wikipedia right now is. I hope the notion of a ‘wiki for professionals’ and the implied question ‘Am I qualified enough to edit?’ won’t slow down or discourage contribution. WP:BB.

    While, of course, the aim of providing a wiki for professionals requires a high degree of vigilance from the side of the community to help ensure a high degree of accuracy. Wikis tend to be criticized for inaccuracy.

    By the way, if this is not a site that would really need Semantic MediaWiki, I don’t know one.

    March 26, 2007
  6. “If those articles are well-referenced, then those should be reliable. It’s not a question of credentials, but references.”

    This is a perspective I don’t quite understand, Berci. Should a doctor trust an article at AskDrWiki (or Wikipedia) as accurate because it has lots of good-looking footnotes?

    March 27, 2007
  7. Good-looking is not a good expression, I’d say proper.

    Anyway, do you think that a doctor should trust a Nature or a Newscientist article? Those have lots of good-looking references too.

    Did I say that doctors must only trust these wikis? Wikis are works in progress. Doctors must trust medical books and their knowledge. But if additional information is needed, then the properly referenced articles could be a source of information. That’s all I say.

    March 27, 2007
  8. So I got asked to comment further:

    March 28, 2007
  9. HelloWorld #

    Peace people

    We love you

    April 26, 2007
  10. Rosie Sekayumptewa #

    I’ve got a medical question that I would like to ask of a physician. I have a brother who was injured in an auto accident August 1989 and he had a CV 3/4 injury. Today he is still paralyzed but lately he has been feeling severe pain in his hip or “butt” area. My question is, I thought he is not suppose to be feeling any pain at all so how could he be feeling this pain. His rehab doctor and his regular doctor have been giving him constant care and examinations but can’t explain how or why that pain is there. What could it be? I would appreciate your response. Thank you.

    Rosie S.

    August 22, 2007
  11. I’m sorry Rosie, but me as a medical student and blogger, can’t give you any kind of advice.

    August 22, 2007
  12. I agree with you – and I think you’ve assessed it rather well. Wikipedia is for lay people, and it should stay that way. But there is a need for an extensive sort of wiki, something that goes a lot deeper and has more technical references. The idea of Ask Dr Wiki is a fantastic one. I also know there are some other similar wiki’s out there, that are geared towards specific illnesses. These are excellent for rural areas, especially the FluWiki and similar wiki’s. But, they are also for laypeople (and should remain so.) A technical Wiki, edited ONLY by doctors and medical people, is a fantastic idea. All the best to the guys to Ask Dr Wiki then. I think it’s a really excellent idea.

    October 10, 2007
  13. Anonymous #

    You need an orthopaedic area

    January 2, 2008
  14. Lately, I’ve been faced with a lot of articles saying that Wikipedia has degraded because of some incorrect articles pushed into it. Wikipedia has been very open to people who wanted to contribute something. However, Wikipedia failed to strain or filter this information. They also failed to verify the information being entered.

    January 7, 2008
  15. Well I started of as a wikipedia editor and pretty early bfore entering med school (Just out of fun for out wiki-editors group in school). But things changed after entering med school.
    1. Much of the med students rely on wikipedia articles pretty blindly (they even quote it in exams).
    2. They dont wish to edit it because, they dont want to go through the learning curve of wikitext or the syntax.
    3. I dont have time or dont-teach-me-attitude on wikipedia when a non-medico puts up an argument. Plus the attitude of medicos to go behind credentials and refrences.
    4. Wikipedia has a very organised, managed and dedicated set up, which has lived up and will continue to live upto all our dreams.
    Unfortunately Im the alone editor in the my whole medical school.
    Anyways, any specific medical oriented wiki can do is
    Exceptionally well organised info about each and every disease taking care of its talk pages and edits with history. A WYSIWYG editor would do far more than anything for those lazy medicos.
    The questions asked from patients should fall under respective disease category with back-fore link ups, which can present usefull cases for doctors and medical students.
    The ad revenue model sholud be user and need specific like gynaecolgist would be least intersted in opthalmic instruments. Hence signed in users should define keyword specification for the ads they need.

    Well the most usefull would be to have a separate link out of medical portal of wikipedia itself coz its not worth reinventing the wheel (anyways it “CREATIVE COMMONS ROCKS”)

    And all this needs a medico with compwhiz head hope the program im working on sloves this:)

    September 19, 2010
  16. It took long time to open Ask Dr Wiki. I think the web server should be improved.

    September 23, 2010
  17. elizabe #

    a man i have been sleeping with gave me the herpes virus he did not disclose any info on this i found out from his x spouse recently can i sue him for infecting me with this awfull virus

    June 1, 2010

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