Study Finds 90% of Health-Related Wikipedia Articles Contain Errors

May 28, 2014 in News

Wikipedia contains errors in about 90% of its health care-related pages, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, BBC News reports.

Researchers say patients should use information on the site with caution (Stephens, BBC News, 5/27).

Details of Study

In April 2012, 10 U.S. researchers analyzed Wikipedia entries on 10 of the “most costly” medical conditions in the country, including:

  • Asthma;
  • Back pain;
  • Cancer;
  • Depression;
  • Diabetes;
  • Disorders related to trauma;
  • Heart disease;
  • Hyperlipidemia;
  • Hypertension; and
  • Osteoarthritis (Hasty et al., JAOA, 5/1).

Researchers then compared the articles with peer-reviewed medical research on the ailments.

Study Findings

The researchers said the Wikipedia entries contained “many errors.” Specifically, the study found that 90% of the entries contained information that contradicted the latest medical research on the condition.

As many as 70% of doctors and medical students use Wikipedia, according to researchers.

Concerns Over Open Access

According to BBC News, Wikipedia’s 30 million articles can be edited by anyone. However, volunteers from the medical field check entries for inaccuracies, according to Wikimedia UK — the British version of the site.

Still, the website’s open access model has “raised concern” about its reliability among medical professionals, according to the researchers.

Recommendations

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.” Hasty added that physicians are the “best resource” for medical information.

Stevie Benton with Wikimedia also suggested that patients contact their primary care doctor “as a first point of call,” adding, “Wikipedia, like any encyclopedia, should not take the place of a qualified medical practitioner” (BBC News, 5/27).

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