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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Crowdsourcing: Funding Vs. Information

Published February 13, 2014 2:22 PM by Michael Jones

In a recent post, I covered some unique opportunities presented by crowdfunding for technological advances in areas like molecular diagnostics. While the crowdsourcing mentality can work well in gathering funds for equipment producers, crowdsourcing medical information through sites like Wikipedia can carry more limitations and even dangers. A recent article from NPR opened up discussion on the subject.

“I think that’s the double-edged sword of Wikipedia,” said Amin Azzam, MD, MA, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, in the NPR piece. “Because anyone can edit, we don’t necessarily know the expertise of the people doing the editing. [On] the other hand, the reason it’s so popular is because everyone can contribute.”

The story noted that, according to a January IMS Health Institute study, Wikipedia is “the ‘single leading source’ of healthcare information for both patient and healthcare professionals.” Due to the website being open to the open to public editing, this is not always a benefit and can lead to the circulation of incorrect medical information. According to the article, Azzam teaches a course in which he works with fourth-year medical student to clean up the material available on Wikipedia, editing pages and improving the quality of information.

“It’s not just adding references and not just improving the gaps,” continued Azzam in the NPR piece, “but thinking about how to make it more readable and more digestible for the people that are reading Wikipedia.”

An intriguing side effect of having student edit the pages, as noted both by Azzam, is that they were forced to present the information in a way readers could comprehend. One commenter on the NPR page even took it a step further and wrote, “Med School students editing Wikipedia articles does something else which no one here has commented upon--it just might help the future doctors learn to talk to Patients in a way that the patients can understand,” suggesting that the practice could also potentially improve patient communication.



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