Tech 101 - Medical Wikis

December 1, 2009
Jonathan Bertman, MD

Lately, I've been thinking about how fast everything moves these days. This is true in technology, medicine, business, and other important areas of our lives. Keeping up with changes in healthcare is a real challenge; just reading monthly print medical journals won't cut it anymore in the digital age. Now, practically every day I find myself looking something up on Wikipedia.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how fast everything moves these days. This is true in technology, medicine, business, and other important areas of our lives. Keeping up with changes in healthcare is a real challenge; just reading monthly print medical journals won’t cut it anymore in the digital age. Now, practically every day I find myself looking something up on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

It has articles on practically every subject in every field, from the history of the Thirty Years War to medical subjects, and everything in-between.

Wikis are information sites that allow any user to write or edit content in an encyclopedia-style format. Some wikis rely on editors or moderators to monitor and correct content posted to the site. Most wikis are open to everyone and every topic, while others are restricted to specific contributors and narrowly defined subjects. A number of wikis have a social networking aspect, but most are purely about sharing information.

In the field of medicine, there are dozens of wikis, and the number is continually growing. David Rothman, a medical librarian and blogger, has collected a list of 69 medical Wikis, last updated in January. Some of these wikis accept contributions from only vetted medical professionals; others allow anyone to participate.

An interesting medical wiki that I recently came across is Codapedia.com. According to the website, the mission of Codapedia is to build a community of volunteers (called “Codapedists”) to create a comprehensive resource for coding and reimbursement for physician services. Like most wikis, Codapedia is free, with costs underwritten by advertising. As an EHR software developer who constantly thinks about codes, I found this wiki to be fascinating and worth a look for anyone who wants to maximize billing.

Dr. Wiki is a nonprofit educational website aimed at physicians, medical students, and other healthcare providers. It serves as an online repository of medical information—including review articles, clinical notes, and medical images—that can be accessed by anyone. Contributors are limited to licensed clinical professionals who have proven their credentials to the satisfaction of the editors, a group of physicians from the Cleveland Clinic, which explains why the site is currently cardiology-heavy.

Some medical wikis blend social networking with research, providing forums for medical professionals to exchange clinical experiences, review cases, and share knowledge. For example, Sermo is a website where physicians collaborate on challenging cases and share clinical insights to improve patient care. The idea is that physicians aggregate observations from their daily practice and then challenge or corroborate each other’s opinions. According to the website, they’ve generated more than 30,000 discussions and sparked over 3,000,000 comments to date.

Melrose Place

At the other extreme, DoctorsHangout.com bills itself as an exclusive social networking service for medical students, residents, and doctors. This website is definitely more about the social aspects of creating personal and professional relationships—it has the feel of a slightly sleazy online for doctors.

A relatively new, doctor-run wiki, created by some big names in the medical field, features a user-friendly website. The Medpedia Project is backed by Harvard Medical School, Stanford School of Medicine, Berkeley School of Public Health, University of Michigan Medical School, and others. It purports to be a new model for sharing and advancing knowledge about health and medicine among medical professionals and the general public. There is an “original authorship” designation that permanently recognizes the original author of each article and provides links to the author’s bio and contact information. If it succeeds, Medpedia might become the first complete repository of up-to-date, unbiased medical information, contributed and maintained by health experts around the world, and freely available to everyone.

I urge you to start exploring the wonderful world of wikis today. I guarantee there is a medical wiki for your specialty or interest. And if you want to get involved, start posting new information or editing what others have already contributed.

We know what you’re thinking: “Wikipedia? Are you kidding me?” If you don’t trust that site, what do you use? WikiDoc? Other health wikis? Send an e-mail to ccole@mdng.com and share your favorites.