National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland will welcome a handful of Wikimedia Foundation's staff and volunteers. Some of the nation's top health, science, and medical minds will take a one day course on the mechanics and formatting of Wikipedia. Said Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, "With the broad range of experts from the National Institutes of Health, we see a great opportunity for increasing the quality of all health-related information on Wikipedia."On July 16, the United States
This is a significant event, not only because the Wikipedia Academy training will be the first of its kind in the US, but also because Wikipedia is often at the top of results when the general public searches for online health information.
According to the Wikipedia blog, the 2009 swine flu pandemic page "got about 16,000 page hits on April 23, and this number increased to a dizzying 2.86 million page hits only a week later." The article began as a mere stub and has since expanded to a 21 page article with multiple iterations and discussions.
The NIH is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' primary agency for conducting and supporting medical research. Contributions from the group will likely help dispel myth from fact and increase awareness for early detection and preventative health.
In the past, a number of media stories from the American Medical News, Reuters Health and Seattle's KOMO TV News have criticized Wikipedia for its lack of credibility. There have also been a number of breakaway efforts to recreate the Wikipedia experience amongst subject experts including Toxipedia, Medpedia and Citizendium. Nevertheless, with Wikipedia's monthly unique traffic of 300 million visitors, it simply makes more sense for medical experts to travel to an information epicenter rather than asking millions to modify their behavior.
While no responsible medical professional would ever suggest Wikipedia as the sole information source for self-diagnosis and treatment, the NIH's recognition of Wikipedia's value might spur on other agencies to consider the site in health outreach strategies.