Study Shows Wikipedia Rx Drug Pages Often Outdated, Inaccurate

June 27, 2014 in News

Wikipedia entries about prescription drugs often are incorrect or not up-to-date, according to a study outlined in a New England Journal of Medicine Perspective, HealthDay reports.

Details of Study

For the study, researchers analyzed whether Wikipedia entries reflected FDA’s drug safety communications in an accurate and timely manner.

Specifically, the researchers examined 22 drug safety warnings issued by FDA between 2011 and 2012 for an array of diseases and conditions, including hepatitis C, hypertension and leukemia. They then assessed the accuracy and timeliness of Wikipedia entries related to each drug for 60 days before and after the FDA communications were issued.

Study Findings

The researchers found that there were more than 13 million searches on Google and five million Wikipedia page views for each of the prescription drugs during the study period. In the week following FDA communications, the number of Google searches for each drug increased by an average of 82% and the number of Wikipedia page views increased by 175%.

However, the study found that:

  • Just 41% of the relevant Wikipedia pages had been updated within two weeks of the FDA communications;
  • 23% of the pages took more than two weeks to reflect the FDA warnings; and
  • 36% of the pages did not reflect the FDA warning one year after the warning was issued.

In addition, the study found that common prescription drugs used to treat at least one million U.S. residents were more likely to be updated than less-common drugs. Specifically:

  • 58% of Wikipedia pages on commonly used prescription drugs were correctly updated within two weeks of an FDA notification; and
  • 20% of pages on less-common prescription drugs were updated within two weeks of an FDA warning.

Reaction

Perspective co-author John Seeger, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said the delays and inaccuracies were a problem because so many consumers rely on Wikipedia for medical information. He added that many of those people “may not have the background or training to assess what’s good medical information and what’s not.”

However, Seeger also said that the study shows consumers likely hear about FDA warnings in a relatively timely fashion after they are issued, as demonstrated “by the sharp increase in online activity around these products just after the communications” (Mozes, HealthDay, 6/25).

Recommendations

The Perspective authors recommended that FDA improve access to prescription drug information through the agency’s website and integrate social media.

In addition, the authors recommended enabling FDA to update or automatically send new safety notices to Wikipedia pages.

The perspective states, “Integrating online public health communication into medical training and consumer-facing websites could be an important step toward more fully realizing the Internet’s potential in the promotion of public health” (NEJM, 6/26).

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