Medical Publisher Launches Beta Health Wiki

By Sharon Linsenbach  |  Posted 2008-01-25

Medical Publisher Launches Beta Health Wiki

Science, technical and medical publisher Elsevier's WiserWiki, a clinical health information wiki created by board-certified doctors, could be a big factor in helping consumers overcome their distrust of online health information.

WiserWiki, launched in November 2007 and currently in beta, is like other wikis in that it allows users to create and power a collaborative, community Web site that is populated with information contributed by community members.

But WiserWiki differs in that the basis for the wiki is Elsevier's "Textbook of Primary Care Medicine, Third Edition," by John Noble, published in 2001. That content can only be added to or edited by board certified doctors "to ensure that the information is as trustworthy and reliable as possible," according to a statement on the WiserWiki site.

However, consumers can view contributors' names and the changes they've made to the site. The consumer can then use that information to evaluate recent updates and validate the accuracy of the content on the site, an Elsevier spokesperson said.

Julie Snyder, an analyst at Forrester, said that wikis with pre-qualified authors and editors such as WiserWiki could help overcome one of the major stumbling blocks to consumer adoption of online health information -- trust.

"That is a paradox we see with a lot of online health content right now. [Consumers] are migrating to the Web to get health content, but they have problems determining accuracy," she said.

While a December 2007 Forrester study found that 84 percent of the 7,500 surveyed consumers had researched a health topic using an online source such as a Web site, an RSS feed or an e-mail alert and that 81 percent had visited a web site, the survey showed that overall, consumers did not trust the information they found.

The Forrester study reported that 53 percent of consumers don't trust health information blogs, 46 percent don't trust social networking sites and 34 percent don't trust wikis.

Snyder said that while some of the consumer wariness is generational, and that younger users in Generation X, Y and even some younger baby boomers show higher levels of trust of online health content, the concern with accuracy is also a result of health care's historically slow technology adoption curve.

"In the health care space, technology traditionally enters the market later than other industries, for instance, retail or financial services," she said. The current mistrust of online health information mirrors the skepticism consumers felt five or ten years ago about making retail purchases online or managing their 401k and financial portfolio, Snyder said.

Medical Publisher Launches Beta Health Wiki

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"Talking about your health in a public forum is something that's very new -- there's an adoption curve there," she said. Well-vetted and qualified sources like WiserWiki could help overcome some consumers' hesitation, Snyder said, since consumers could be sure the authors and editors were board certified physicians.

"Consumers equate trust very closely with the medical community. They take recommendations from their doctors as to where to go for health information," Snyder said.

She said the consumer "trust factor" for online health information could increase if consumers could verify that qualified, verified and vetted "real doctors" were providing that information.

The wiki process isn't that much different from the traditional, collaborative effort involved in putting together a large textbook, said Scott Virkler, vice president of Web strategy with Elsevier.

The verification process is also nearly identical, he said, making WiserWiki a natural extension of what Elsevier does as a publisher. "We have to qualify editors and authors for the wiki just like we vet and qualify them to be published in our medical journals," Virkler said.

There are also multiple contributors to large medical textbooks like Noble's, he added, which made the new wiki collaboration process very similar to the old book collaboration process.

"We are also trying to see how wiki processes can be applied to our offline processes as well," he said, adding that the idea for WiserWiki came out of the publisher's book unit, the core of the publisher's business, though his group played a role.

"My group sets our online strategy, optimizing search engines to get better exposure for our content," Virkler said. "We also help business units bring neat ideas, like the wiki, to fruition, so we can try some new things online."

WiserWiki is currently in beta, and Virkler said that though site statistics show that individual user sessions last longer than the company anticipated, and has attracted close to a hundred contributors so far, the publisher does not have a date slated for an "alpha" release, or plans to create wikis for other fields.

"There's no current plan to extend into other fields, but we'll cross those bridges when we come to them. We're going to follow the lead of other online companies who put things out in beta for an indefinite period," he said.

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