Medpedia is a new collaborative website that launched today, aiming to become a comprehensive resource of medical knowledge. The site is designed for medical professionals, students and the public to access information about medical information, providing information in both “Plain English” and “Clinical” versions. And it seems to have the firepower to become at least a widely known and influential resource: its founding Advisory Board includes Mitch Kapor and former deans and professors at leading American medical schools, and associated institutions include Harvard, Stanford, University of Michigan and UC Berkeley, to name a few.
As for how they intend to keep the information on the site reliable, it would appear that the site’s administrators are seeking a balance where the site can grow collaboratively but not at the expense of inaccurate information. Anybody can get an account and suggest changes, but only approved, verified health professionals and PhDs in biomedical fields can make changes directly and act as lead editors on articles. They even appear to recognize the valuable knowledge of other health workers and expert patients and the site will continue to struggle with how to recognize trustworthy sources of information.
I think a public resource of medical and health information is extremely valuable, and Wikipedia with its myriad ephemeral tangents cannot fill this need. And until now, although there are resources available for health professionals both free and behind pay walls, there was no single go-to resource that the public could consult. I am impressed that Medpedia takes conflicts of interest seriously, (as does the Canadian Open Medicine Journal) although it remains to be seen whether conflicts are in fact detectable with the same ease as the rest of the information on the site. I am especially impressed with how open the site is, in terms of contributions, comments, and copyright licensing.
I remain sceptical, but not pessimistic, about how objective the information on the site can be, especially if it were to achieve the level of ubiquity of Wikipedia. At that point, the audience accessing the information would be extremely valuable, and it would become extremely difficult in that particular arena to maintain distance from vested interests. But if systems are put in place early and an expectation becomes entrenched on the part of contributors and readers that the information is free of conflicts of interest and written with a broad conceptualization of the constructed idea of health itself, then perhaps it can resist those pressures.