New tools to find medical information

MedPedia, a wiki for everything (read: e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g) medical, launched last week.  From MedGadget:

A group of American medical schools is working on a project to essentially collect and organize all medical knowledge in a Wikipedia-like form. Access to MedPedia will be available to all, but editing rights will be limited to M.D.’s and Ph.D.’s in relevant fields of research. Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and Berkeley will kick off the site with initial content and work with the rest of the medical community to make it comprehensive. With that in mind, the project organizers are calling on all M.D’s and Ph.D’s to register to become editors of what they believe will be the largest and most complete encyclopedia of medicine in history.

Google Knol, a tool similar to Wikipedia + Squidoo, launched last week, too.  From Knol:

The Knol project is a site that hosts many knols — units of knowledge — written about various subjects. The authors of the knols can take credit for their writing, provide credentials, and elicit peer reviews and comments. Users can provide feedback, comments, and related information. So the Knol project is a platform for sharing information, with multiple cues that help you evaluate the quality and veracity of information.

Common theme: content created, edited, and distributed by experts for the reading pleasure of all.

It seems everything old is new again.

I am a fan of MedPedia.  For physicians, being able to easily search and access information that has long been stored in medical journals is a definite improvement. I’ve witnessed physicians using Wikipedia for a quick once over of a not-often-discussed topic.  Now, not only can they do a quick refresher with MedPedia,  but they are able to make confident clinical decisions based upon the content.

I’m skeptical of Knol, but warming.  It may have its place in medical search as well.  Bob Wachter, a partner in the creation of Knol, explains its usefulness:

So if you search Google for your favorite health care topic (migraine, or MI, or leukemia, for example), you’re likely to see a Knol – at this point, undoubtedly one that I commissioned – in the search results. The Knols are layperson oriented: I asked authors to write the Knol that they’d want their mother or best friend to read if they had just been diagnosed with the illness. There are also a few Knols on broader medical issues; for example, I wrote Knols on patient safety, quality of care, and hospitalists.

Bertalan Meskó raises this contention:

So I will have to find out which Knol is better. In Wikipedia, we merge different “Knols” into one article. So the readers can only see the best version. Doesn’t it sound better?

I believe in the wisdom of crowds (maybe because I’ve been a Wikipedia administrator for years now). You can pay people to create you a database of information; you can let people fight who can come up with the better article. But it can never be as accurate as Wikipedia is.

Don’t we have enough information?  More is always better—as long as the organization of the information is functional.  Finding it, understanding it, and trusting it is what MedPedia and Knol are trying to improve.

On a related note, I’d be willing to offer that many medical information searches start with Google.  Well, a new search engine, Cuil, launched on Sunday specfically taking aim at the search giant.

The launch was laughable.

Seth Godin’s post sums up what many are thinking on Cuil vs. Google:

Once there’s an icon in place, it’s there because it’s working. It serves a purpose, it carries useful information and performs a valuable function.

[snip]

Google, of course, is the Marilyn Monroe of search. I have no doubt that someone will develop a useful tool one day that takes time and attention away from Google, but it won’t be a search engine. Google, after all, isn’t broken, not in terms of solving the iconic “how do I find something online using my web browser” question.

Bringing it all together, Seth provides advice:

The challenge for organizations is this: the easiest projects to start and fund are those that go after existing icons. The search for the “next” is easy to explain and exciting to join because we can visualize the benefits. But success keeps going to people who build new icons, not to those that seek to replace the most successful existing ones.

Are these tools differentiated enough to replace Wikipedia, Squidoo, and Google?  Will they exist in a crowded competitive environment?  Or will they languish in mediocrity?

Collectively, we watch and–maybe–participate.

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