Diagnosing the New Medpedia

Yesterday, web entrepreneur James Currier, the founder of Ooga Labs, launched an open-source encyclopedia for medical information — sort of. 

Currier's site, Medpedia, plans to avoid the inaccuracy pitfalls of user-generated content by screening the users for trained professionals only.

The site will feature author pages detailing their credentials including their educational background and certifications. The New York Times Bits blog wrote that, "Mr. Currier is aiming to build the most complete database of information from medical professionals." 

While ambitious, Wikidoc already claims this throne as the self-reported "world's largest medical textbook/encyclopedia" with over 75,000 chapters of content contributed by over 900 registered users.  Rather than screening users, Wikidoc allows completely democratic edits, however, each topic is overseen by an accredited editor-in-chief.

While Currier looks to expertise to solve the Wiki problem, Thomas Goetz, deputy editor of Wired magazine, argues that expertise is in fact the problem with scientific writing on Wikipedia. In his blog entry, "Why Does Wikipedia Suck on Science?" Goetz writes, "On Wikipedia, contributors are expected to contribute their knowledge. But on science, there's a oneupmanship going on, and a topic will be honed to an ever-greater level of expertise. That's great for precision and depth, but horrible for the general user, who is often brought to Wikipedia through a top hit on Google."

Currier is also cited for calling on patients to take a more active role in their health and to follow procedural guidelines for surgeries and treatments that will be posted on Medpedia. The problem is that some methods encouraging patient literacy, such as direct-to-consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies, are blamed by the medical community for problems such as the overuse of prescription drugs.  Doctors also often use varied procedure prep guidelines that might contradict those online and lead to confusion.

The site seems to offer promise in the listing of specialists by geographical area to provide for a physician referral system. However, zocdoc.com is reportedly expanding outside New York. If they do it fast enough, Medpedia may be rendered redundant at best, but most likely a nice try.

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