Making the World Safer One Wikipedia Entry at a Time

SHS DPT Students Work with Wikiproject Medicine

May 23, 2017
Students at SHS DPT program in Manhattan edited medical Wikipedia entries with Wikiproject Medicine.

Where do most people get their health information on the internet? The answer might surprise you: Wikipedia. How reliable is it? More so every day, thanks to Wikiproject Medicine and volunteers like Touro’s PT students. 

There are roughly 32,000 medical entries on Wikipedia, according to NPR, and the health pages had 4.9 billion views in 2013. The entries’ validity have long been a source of controversy as NPR reported in November, and to remedy incorrect information, Wikipedia launched Wikiproject Medicine, a collaborative effort to improve medical accuracy on the site. For the second year in a row, students at Touro College School of Health Sciences (SHS) Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program in Manhattan were a part of the effort.

In April, students in Dr. Shira Weiner’s class on healthcare education spent a day correcting Wikipedia entries, referencing high level studies as sources. The class teaches students how to effectively communicate with patients using proper medical terminology. Wikipedia entries, with their mix of scientific jargon and colloquial language, were the perfect exercise for the students. The students were led by Lane Rasberry, the Wikipedian in Residence at Consumer Reports. Using an algorithm, Rasberry pointed to entries on the site that experience both high volume web traffic, but have low quality information.

“My students are healthcare providers and Wikipedia is one of the most visible and visited sites for health-related information,” explained Dr. Weiner. “There’s a lot of incorrect information out there and our students have a responsibility to share their knowledge so people can use that information to improve their lives.”

Students edited a bevy of articles on chronic pain, joint pain, physical therapy education, doctor-patient confidentiality, spinal disease and sports injuries. This year, Dr. Weiner noted, due to the high-profile nature of the entries, students engaged in a back-and-forth dialog with other Wikipedia editors from around the world.

"Contributing to the physical therapy literature was an extremely worthwhile experience,” said student Tamara Levy. “Knowing that we have taken part in perpetuating scientific information has given me a greater appreciation for the importance of making sure the public receives accurate information.”

“I never realized how much effort goes into making a Wikipedia page,” added student Nicole Edi. “There are so many people out there who are constantly checking and updating the information using reliable sources. This was a great opportunity for us to learn about the importance of educating others on topics that we are learning about.”

The pages that Touro students edited have been viewed 156,000 times since the event.