Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Feature

Wikipedia: what it is and why it matters for healthcare

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 08 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2478
  1. Lane Rasberry, Wikipedian in residence, Consumer Reports
  1. lrasberry{at}

Lane Rasberry explains how Wikipedia is built and what the growing implications are for patients and doctors who use it

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all medical knowledge. This is what Wikipedians are aiming for.

While the Wikipedia community has continually worked to improve the quality of its health content since the project’s founding in 2001, few of the encyclopedia articles meet the quality standards that healthcare providers would expect before recommending that patients consult it. All the content is written, edited, and maintained by volunteers, and anyone visiting the website can click the “edit” button at the top of any article and instantly change any aspect of the presented content without seeking permission, getting moderator approval, or even registering an account.

Regardless of the dubious quality of Wikipedia, it persists as a popular source of health information, even for doctors. As of January 2014 there were 26 000 articles in Wikipedia covering health topics including medical conditions, drugs, procedures, and diseases. These collectively were requested and accessed 178 000 000 times that month, representing an audience comparable in size to that of any other health publication. Wikipedia’s reach, irrespective of its quality, means that those who care about the body of health information influencing public thought should consider the impact Wikipedia has as a health publication. For those who do wish to engage with Wikipedia, it is an open, volunteer, community project, and there are precedents for health partnerships.

Engaging with Wikipedia

Outside of Wikipedia’s own volunteer community initiatives, the first attempt to conduct a health educational campaign by guiding the improvement of some Wikipedia articles began in 2012 when the ABIM Foundation, a non-profit organization established by the American Board of Internal Medicine, launched the Choosing Wisely campaign. Choosing Wisely …

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