Interview with Jennifer Hawkins from Medpedia

I had a very interesting interview with Jennifer Hawkins, a community manager at Medpedia who was able to discuss some of the very useful features of Medpedia.

JM: thanks for joining me today for this interview, can you start by saying a bit about your background?

JEH: Surely. I am a Community Manager at Medpedia. Graduated from Georgetown with the intent of going into some kind of public health field and stumbled upon Medpedia, based in downtown San Francisco. The site launched in February 2009, and I joined the team about a year ago, so I have seen it though many different stages.I joined the team because I truly believe in the mission — elevating high-quality medical and health information and making it freely available to the general public as well as to medical professionals. I love that the site is ad-free (unlike most other medical websites out there) and the integrity of the content is maintained because we have rather strict requirements for becoming a Medpedia Editor.

JM: Yes I agree there are a lot of great qualities in Medpedia. Can you tell us a bit more about how you stumbled into Medpedia?

JEH: I had been working in Peru for a non-profit  running sports programs for young girls in the Cusco region. The mission was to create a healthy, safe, and empowering environment for young girls to exercise and play sports. Upon return from Peru, I moved to San Francisco, a place I always wanted to live. I started looking for work with a company that I was passionate about and found an ad for this position on Craigslist. I had a couple interviews, and started right away. I’m delighted to work here and am happy to come to work every day.

JM: That’s a great story.

JM: Medpedia’s founder has had a lot of success in the commercial sector. Can you tell us, is Medpedia a commercial or non-profit organisation?

JEH: Inc. is funded and maintained by Ooga Labs, a technology greenhouse in San Francisco developing several for-profit, mission-oriented companies to address worldwide needs in health, education, and activism.

JM: Ok. Thanks. Why was the emphasis on a for-profit rather than non-profit organisation and how is revenue generated?

JEH: Medpedia is a for-profit venture, and that was done by design. We didn’t want to have be raising money every few months instead of focusing on the product. Right now, we are funded by Ooga Labs and we can keep going for several years. The core platform of Medpedia will always be free and we are very committed to that. In the future, we may build custom services (like LinkedIn does), for organizations that request it. We do not not take any advertisements and do not want to be influenced by any pharmaceutical and/or tobacco companies, etc. That’s why Medpedia is build on a foundation of transparency, where everyone has a profile and all the activity is visible.

JM: So essentially all of the content produced by users of Medpedia will remain open access.

JEH: Yes, exactly.

JM: Will any of that information be sold?

JEH: No, it will not.

JM: How would you say Medpedia is different from Wikipedia in terms of content both in the ideal world and in practice?

JEH: Here’s a really thorough outline of the answer to that question: .  To add to that, Wikipedia only includes encyclopedic entries, and anyone can edit including anonymous people. On Medpedia, each contributor must have a profile with their real name and background. We also include many other content types including case studies, clinical trials, how-tos, etc.

JM: These other features are very interesting. I get the sense from Medpedia that the community is integral.

JEH: Yes, absolutely. There’s so much more to this project than just the wiki articles. There are also communities, group pages for organizations, profiles, etc.

JM: So one of the features is the ability for people to present questions and get answers from specialists

JEH: Yes, that is Medpedia Answers. It is a very popular feature on the site. It’s an easy way for people to contribute to the knowledge base, even if they are not yet comfortable editing the wiki.

JM: What features on Medpedia are proving to be the most popular with patients and with practitioners? Can you talk us through some of these features?

JEH: In addition to Medpedia Answers, Medpedia Communities are popular spaces for medical professionals, patients, caregivers, and anyone with a common health interest to share information, join discussions, and collaborate inside Medpedia. In the Medical Ethics Community, for example, we’ve had some really interesting discussions that you can see here. Our users have created communities around many diverse topics — Breast Cancer, Clinical Informatics, and Psychiatry, to name a few.  Within communities people can also discover other popular resources on Medpedia like related Clinical Trials or Medpedia News & Analysis which helps people find high-quality news sources and blogs organized by topic.

JM: So communities in Medpedia offer a place for groups to meet and exchange information. One of these communities has been created in conjunction with RARE, an organisation focusing on rare diseases. Can you say a little bit more about this?

JEH: RareSpace is an online knowledge sharing platform around rare childhood diseases (which affect 22.5 million American families). Designed in partnership with the R.A.R.E. Project and the Children’s Rare Disease Network, RareSpace provides a platform to advance research and share information on these diseases on Medpedia.  Parents, physicians, researchers, advocates and others interested in rare diseases are encouraged to participate in discussions and share information about genetic diseases, innovations in research, and standards of care. Medical professionals in RareSpace will answer questions about treatment, best practices, and how to best help these children and their families. Anyone with an interest in rare diseases is invited to join at

JM: Also just to clarify. If a group of people with a medical interest wanted to get together, how does Medpedia facilitate this and  how easy is it to set up a group in practice?

JEH: Communities are user-generated, meaning Medpedia users typically create the communities themselves.  It is very easy to create a community — simply create a professional Medpedia profile for yourself, then fill out a few fields describing the community you’d like to create (see screenshot).  Once a community is created, it is open for any other Medpedia user to join.

JM: If you set up a community can you link it in with other social media forums such as Twitter and facebook?

Right now, you can add a badge to your blog or website featuring a Medpedia Community of which you are a member.  You can also see relevant Twitter feeds in select communities under the “Alerts” tab (see the RareSpace community as an example ).  You can see a comprehensive list of the various twitter channels in Medpedia Alerts.  We currently have a Facebook page but no integration from Medpedia  to facebook as of yet.

JM: I was reading on the site that over 100 organisations have contributed to the content. That’s an impressive number. Is this is an indication of how popular Medpedia is already?

JEH: Absolutely.  Lots of organizations have put tremendous effort into creating health-related content to educate the public.  Many have chosen to donate this content to the Medpedia platform in order to increase the visibility and reach of their content and their organization.

JM: Are there any plans to tie in with excellent resources like Schizophrenia forum and Alzforum?

JEH: Not officially, but users of the Medpedia platform are encouraged to discuss and share various resources like these.  If integration is something our users really want, we would absolutely be open to discussing it!

JM: One useful resource I’ve come across is Neurolex which is an effort to create a standardised language for use in the neurosciences. One thing I’ve found tricky is trying to incorporate the links into my own articles. Is there any way that Medpedia could cross-link with this resource?

JEH: That sounds like a very interesting resource!  We currently do not have cross-linking capability with this resource, but it is something we are always open to discussing.

JM: Are there any plans for a connection with Wikipedia? Can there be a useful collaboration between the two while still maintaining the strict boundaries around content generation on Wikipedia?

JEH: Currently, there are no plans to do so.  As I mentioned, Medpedia is a multi-functional platform and Wikipedia is strictly an encyclopedia.  In addition, I believe that less than 2% of Wikipedia’s content is about health/medicine and it is written by unknown/unverified contributors, thus making collaboration difficult.  That being said, our beliefs in open access to information and the power of collaboration are very much shared by both Medpedia and Wikipedia.

My Conflict of Interest

I am a volunteering member of the Medpedia community and this blog is listed on Medpedia’s site.

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