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Googling your symptoms is probably a bad idea. (Wikipedia)

Medical Students Are Fixing Wikipedia Entries

Wikipedia is still the leading source of information for patients and providers. Which is a problem, since Wikipedia entries have mistakes

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We’ve all been there: something hurts and your first instinct is to google it. Suddenly, you’re half-convinced you have cancer. Kelly Oxford, author and screenwriter, once joked that “Web MD is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book where the ending is always cancer.” And while we all know that googling things like “pain in side” is not the best way to evaluation your health issues, Wikipedia is still the leading source of information for patients and providers. Which is a problem, since many Wikipedia entries have mistakes.

Now, according to Rachel Feltman at Quartz, medical students are taking to the internet to try and fix some of those errors. Feltman points to Dr. Amin Azzam, a professor and doctor at the Univeristy of California, San Fransisco School of Medicine:

In November, Azzam launched an elective for fourth-year medical students that consists solely of editing Wikipedia articles for accuracy. When one of his former students came up with the concept over a year ago, Azzam was skeptical. But then, he told Quartz, he saw the wisdom of the idea. “A lot of professors have done it,” he said. “I’m not all that innovative. But it hasn’t been done at the medical school level, at least not in the US.” And since medical school is structured from month to month, with fourth years requiring time and flexibility to find their internships for the following year, Azzam realized it was a perfect fit. “It’s a travel-friendly elective while they’re interviewing,” he said. “You can literally do it anywhere.”

The five students in Azzam’s class spent a whole month trawling and correcting Wikipedia entries on medical topics. Unlike some fields, like computer science physics, where entries tend to be relatively accurate and updated often by those in the know, medical professionals have long stayed away from Wikipedia, Azzam says. Which makes it all the more likely that the information patients are reaching for is out of date at best, and flat out wrong at worst. Which in turn makes you more likely to be 50 percent certain you have cancer. Okay, maybe 60 percent. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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