Wikipedia is the most read source of medical information by the general public, as well as medical students, doctors, and policymakers. Ensuring that it is accurate and complete is therefore of the utmost importance for global health since its content has immediate real-world health consequences. Sadly, in a busy world, improving Wikipedia can be low down on the priority list of doctors, researchers and other health professionals. Spotting the problem is easy. Fixing it will take concerted collaboration of multiple communities - Doctors, medical journals and Wikipedia.
Calling all journals
In a letter to the Lancet Global Health this week, an international group of doctors have now called on medical journals to do more to incentivise academics to edit Wikipedia by better integrating journal publishing with encyclopaedia editing. They have also highlighted the efforts being made by the Wikipedia community to provide better medical content.
Specifically, they use the example of stillbirth to illustrate how Wikipedia needs to attract more expert contributors. Before the authors updated it, it lacked mention of key causes of stillbirth, such as Malaria, and there is still much room for improvement. Such an important topic, quite simply, demands accuracy.
Rewarding researchers by publishing their work simultaneously in a peer-reviewed academic journal as well as Wikipedia has two benefits. 1) Peer review ensures the quality of the content. 2) Official recognition of the author's contribution is an important reward for time-pressed contributors.
Offline access for low-income countries
Wikipedia's medical community has also been working to improve the use of its medical content by packaging it as an app that can be used offline. This is particularly relevant to low and middle-income countries, where internet access is typically slow and expensive. The mobile app for Android has seen tens of thousands of downloads since its launch this year.
The way forward
The authors urge that promoting accurate health information online will require the close collaboration of the Wikipedia, medical, and publishing communities. Each community needs to do its part in supporting the others. Health professionals must be willing to help fact-check and reference Wikipedia. Wikipedians must engage and teach busy professionals how to edit the encyclopaedia. Finally, journals must incentivise this by rewarding authors for their efforts through joint-publishing schemes and other reward systems.
When it comes to health content - the deadline is now.