Friday, March 30, 2007

AskDrWiki in the News

This article, "A Wikipedia-style site for medical information?" appeared in yesterday's (March 29, 2007) Cleveland Plain Dealer. I have been busy with a couple of projects so I am just now getting to blog about it.

David Rothman, was interviewed as a librarian opposed to AskDrWiki and that actually shocked me a little. Even though David has criticized the wiki on his blog in the past, he has also discussed the positives of AskDrWiki as well as other wikis. It wasn't until I read David's blog this morning did I get the full picture. In his post, Cleveland Plain Dealer on Medical Wikis he revealed his frustration of being quoted out of context and his decision to publish his interview with the reporter.

I am very familiar with AskDrWiki and I have been watching it with great interest as one the better examples as to how wikis could work in the medical field. It offers a lot of promise as a learning site that can be used in conjunction with other medical information resources. While I share David's concerns about authority control and errors with medical wikis I am not as jittery as many would think.

Perhaps it is just in my mind but I kind of think of wikis, specifically specialty wikis like AskDrWiki, as a virtual discussion room for individuals. As librarians we look at various resources that our patrons use for information. However one resource we often forget about because we often don't see it, is doctor to doctor personal communication. Doctors (as well as other professionals) often consult each other formally or informally. At the basic level what is the difference between the sharing of information face to face vs. online through a wiki? Both methods are a means of exchanging information. Aah.. but there is a chance that the information posted on AskDrWiki is wrong. Yes. But isn't there also a chance the individual you are consulting in person is wrong? People are infallible, including doctors.

Now that AskDrWiki has instituted a credential review policy, it ensures that at least medical professionals are posting and sharing information which does help with some quality control. However, it does not totally eliminate the chance of errors and I don't know of anything that eliminates that chance completely. Textbooks have been recalled for errors, journal articles have been amended or retracted, and treatments medical society once thought to be the gold standard have been replaced. I tend to think of wikis like other information resources (articles, textbooks, personal discussions, etc.) where the onus is still on the user to verify the information. We do it all the time with print resources or through subtleties in conversation.

The medium is not what should be questioned, it is the information within. Learning is all about asking questions. Wikis offer that opportunity to learn.

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The Krafty Librarian has been a medical librarian since 1998. She is currently the medical librarian for a hospital system in Ohio. You can email her at: