Medical schools, research groups to offer content for new online resource

Only vetted professionals will be allowed to contribute to the site.

By — Posted Aug. 18, 2008

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A medical wiki is launching this year as the result of collaboration between an Internet entrepreneur and some notable medical schools and research organizations.

Wiki is the term used for an open-source Web site where users can collaborate and contribute to the content. The new site, called Medpedia, will be modeled after the online wiki encyclopedia, but will differ in that it won't accept content from just anybody.

Its contributing writers and editors will be vetted to ensure they are working health care professionals.

Robert Lash, MD, an endocrinologist at the University of Michigan Medical School, said the involvement of Internet entrepreneur James Currier added credibility to the project and contributed to the school's decision to get involved. Harvard Medical School; Stanford University School of Medicine; and the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health; also are involved with the launch of the project.

Currier, who runs the San Francisco-based technology incubator Ooga Labs, founded the company Tickle in 1999. Originally called Emode, Tickle allowed users to complete psychological and personality tests. Its annual revenues reached $35 million before the employment site Monster bought Tickle in 2004 for about $100 million.

"We didn't want to be a part of a Wikipedia out there with three guys in a back room," Dr. Lash said. "We wanted to be a part of an organization that has taken the time and has done the due diligence to make this work."

Currier, a father of four, said he saw the potential benefits of a medical wiki as a result of his own frustrations trying to find reliable health information when his kids got sick. It "felt like dipping back to 1997 and 1998 ... given what I know about wikis and social networking. So I started thinking, 'Boy, wouldn't that be the long-term solution about how to collect and maintain the best medical information out there not only for me but also for medical professionals,' " Currier said.

Currier said he has received hundreds of applications from people who want to edit and contribute content. Only professionals with medical credentials and no conflicts of interest will be allowed to contribute, he said.

In addition to the four schools, Medpedia is also receiving support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Medpedia is not subsidized by any pharmaceutical company. But the Web site will be supported by advertising revenue, some of which could come from pharmaceutical companies, according to Currier.

John Swartzberg, MD, clinical professor of medicine at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, said the school is "sensitive" to the possibility of pharmaceutical ads popping up on the site. He said it's something the school will monitor closely.

Medical librarian and blogger David Rothman, who regularly writes at about medical wikis, expressed concerns about the regular monitoring of Medpedia's content. "If the academic institutions ... wish to avoid embarrassment, I'd recommend that they dedicate some time of their health care experts to regular review of articles," Rothman wrote.

He estimates about 65 medical wikis exist. He's not sure what the involvement of prominent medical institutions will mean to the project, noting that comparisons won't be possible until the site is up and running.

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