By Katie Wike, contributing writer
A new study compared health-related Wikipedia articles to peer-reviewed medical literature and found shocking results.
It’s common these days for patients to research their health online before stepping foot into a doctor’s office. In fact, about 1 in 4 patients look at doctor reviews before making an appointment, and the average patient spends about 52 hours a year looking up health information on websites like WebMD. With patients doing so much research on their own, there are bound to be safety concerns.
A study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found some online sources for health information are particularly inaccurate. Specifically, researchers looked at Wikipedia entries for the 10 most costly medical conditions. They included: asthma, back pain, cancer, depression, diabetes, disorders related to trauma, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and osteoarthritis.
“Since its launch in 2001, Wikipedia has become the most popular general reference site on the Internet and a popular source of healthcare information. To evaluate the accuracy of this resource, the authors compared Wikipedia articles on the most costly medical conditions with standard, evidence-based, peer-reviewed sources,” says the study’s abstract.
Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, however volunteers from the medical profession monitor these changes. The study notes that the online encyclopedia is the sixth most popular site on the internet and up to 70 percent of med students and doctors say they have used it.
Shockingly, when compared to peer-reviewed medical literature, the Wikipedia articles didn’t just come up short; an overwhelming 90 percent of them contained information that contradicted the latest medical research on the condition.
“Most Wikipedia articles representing the 10 most costly medical conditions in the United States contain many errors when checked against standard peer-reviewed sources. Caution should be used when using Wikipedia to answer questions regarding patient care,” concluded researchers.
According to iHealth Beat, lead study author Robert Hasty, with the Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine in North Carolina, said, "While Wikipedia is a convenient tool for conducting research, from a public health standpoint patients should not use it as a primary resource because those articles do not go through the same peer-review process as medical journals."