Doctors Using Wikipedia to Diagnose and Treat Illness?

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How dangerous is the medical trend toward using Wikipedia to diagnose and treat patients? Image by Decoded Science, all rights reserved

How dangerous is the medical trend toward using Wikipedia to diagnose and treat patients? Image by Decoded Science, all rights reserved

Wikipedia first launched in 2001, and although it has been a go-to source of information for many people, Wikipedia is known for its inaccuracy.

Knowing that Wikipedia information is ‘crowdsourced’ – input by any user – would you believe that Wikipedia is the number one source for healthcare information among doctors?

Yes, you read that right: Doctors are going to Wikipedia for information on your condition and potential treatments.

Doctors and Wikipedia

According to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics’ “Engaging patients through social media” report, Wikipedia is the number one source for healthcare information for both doctors and patients. According to the report, 50 percent of physicians use Wikipedia, especially for specific conditions.

The top five conditions that doctors searched on Wikipedia last year were tuberculosis, Crohn’s disease, pneumonia, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes. The report looked at the changes made to the following five articles on diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer and prostate cancer and found that the articles were constantly changing; between 16 to 46 times a month.

This Wikipedia article includes incorrect information from unknown sources. Does your doctor read the latest studies, or go to Wikipedia? Screenshot taken May 28, 2014 by Decoded Science

Wikipedia, Accuracy, and Your Health

So how accurate or inaccurate is Wikipedia? A recent study entitled, “Wikipedia vs Peer-Reviewed Medical Literature for Information About the 10 Most Costly Medical Conditions” found that many Wikipedia articles are inaccurate.

Researchers looked at the ten costliest conditions in the United States in 2008 – identified from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s database. The 10 costliest conditions included heart disease, cancer, mental disorders, trauma-related disorders, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/asthma, hypertension, diabetes, back problems, and hyperlipidemia. Researchers identified 10 Wikipedia articles that they believed were most related to each of these ten conditions.

The researchers then randomly selected 10 doctors to individually review two of the articles, so that two physicians reviewed each Wikipedia article. The results? The physicians that reviewed the articles found mistakes in the Wikipedia articles in all but one condition (trauma-related disorders).

Is this issue still a problem? We took a quick look at a single article on Wikipedia – Gastroenteritis. In moments, we discovered a mistake that could be fatal. The article states that the rotavirus vaccine is recommended for all children. According to the CDC and the rotavirus manufacturer, however, there are children who definitely should not receive the rotavirus vaccine, including some with allergies, moderate to severe illness, a type of bowel blockage, or who have a compromised immune system.

Making a Change

The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics’ report stated that doctors are aware that Wikipedia is often times inaccurate, so they are working to make a change. Wikiproject Medicine is dedicated to improving the quality of medical information found on Wikipedia. The goals are to get 200 medical articles on Wikipedia to a good or featured status (only 0.1 percent of Wikipedia articles have this distinction), simplify the English, and then translate the article into as many languages as possible.

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