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Wikipedia in Vascular Surgery Medical Education: Comparative Study

  • Yacob, Michael1
  • Lotfi, Shamim2
  • Tang, Shannon1
  • Jetty, Prasad2
  • 1 Queen's University, Kingston, ON , (Canada)
  • 2 University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON , (Canada)
Published Article
JMIR Medical Education
JMIR Publications
Publication Date
Jun 19, 2020
DOI: 10.2196/18076
PMID: 32417754
PMCID: PMC7334757
PubMed Central
External links


Background Medical students commonly refer to Wikipedia as their preferred online resource for medical information. The quality and readability of articles about common vascular disorders on Wikipedia has not been evaluated or compared against a standard textbook of surgery. Objective The aims of this study were to (1) compare the quality of Wikipedia articles to that of equivalent chapters in a standard undergraduate medical textbook of surgery, (2) identify any errors of omission in either resource, and (3) compare the readability of both resources using validated ease-of-reading and grade-level tools. Methods Using the Medical Council of Canada Objectives for the Qualifying Examination, 8 fundamental topics of vascular surgery were chosen. The articles were found on Wikipedia using Wikipedia’s native search engine. The equivalent chapters were identified in Schwartz Principles of Surgery (ninth edition). Medical learners (n=2) assessed each of the texts on their original platforms to independently evaluate readability, quality, and errors of omission. Readability was evaluated with Flesch Reading Ease scores and 5 grade-level scores (Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning Fog Index, Coleman-Liau Index, Simple Measure of Gobbledygook Index, and Automated Readability Index), quality was evaluated using the DISCERN instrument, and errors of omission were evaluated using a standardized scoring system that was designed by the authors. Results Flesch Reading Ease scores suggested that Wikipedia (mean 30.5; SD 8.4) was significantly easier to read ( P =.03) than Schwartz (mean 20.2; SD 9.0). The mean grade level (calculated using all grade-level indices) of the Wikipedia articles (mean 14.2; SD 1.3) was significantly different ( P =.02) than the mean grade level of Schwartz (mean 15.9; SD 1.4). The quality of the text was also assessed using the DISCERN instrument and suggested that Schwartz (mean 71.4; SD 3.1) had a significantly higher quality ( P =.002) compared to that of Wikipedia (mean 52.9; SD 11.4). Finally, the Wikipedia error of omission rate (mean 12.5; SD 6.8) was higher than that of Schwartz (mean 21.3; SD 1.9) indicating that there were significantly fewer errors of omission in the surgical textbook ( P =.008). Conclusions Online resources are increasingly easier to access but can vary in quality. Based on this comparison, the authors of this study recommend the use of vascular surgery textbooks as a primary source of learning material because the information within is more consistent in quality and has fewer errors of omission. Wikipedia can be a useful resource for quick reference, particularly because of its ease of reading, but its vascular surgery articles require further development.

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