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October 7, 2013

Embracing Wikipedia to Improve Population Health

Wikipedia is an online resource that is typically looked down upon by academics, but in a recent interview from The Atlantic, one medical school professor suggests that writing off this widely used resource is a missed opportunity for the health care community.  

In “Should I Be Getting Health Information From Wikipedia?,” Dr. Amin Azzam, a clinical professor at UCSF, discussed his new course on editing Wikipedia health articles and the impact this could have on public health. Medical students enrolled in the course will earn credit for improving the quality of the health information available on Wikipedia, one of the world’s most popular websites for health information. Their work will be part of Wikiproject Medicine, which has defined the top 100 topics people are viewing for health information, giving students a starting place to make the biggest impact possible.

Dr. Azzam credits Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children’s Hospital at Baylor College of Medicine, for advocating the importance of doctors getting involved in editing sites like Wikipedia. Dr. Vartabedian believes it is a moral obligation for doctors to reach out to people through Internet channels—where the majority of people go for their health information— to ensure they are getting quality information.

Education initiatives like this course and other projects like it are so important to the future of health care and public health as we move towards patient engagement and the era of “self-health.” I encourage you to read the interview with Dr. Azzam and to check out Dr. Vartabedian’s blog, 33charts, as examples of how the health care community can embrace Internet resources to improve population health.

David A. Ross, ScD

President/CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, former director of PHII