Study finds 9 of 10 Wikipedia entries on common health conditions inaccurate

28 May 2014

People who turn to the internet to determine the cause of their symptoms might be doing themselves a disservice, according to a study by doctors.

Wikipedia logoThe study found that nine in 10 Wikipedia entries on common medical conditions contained factual errors.

The reason for this is that unlike a traditional encyclopedia, the hugely popular website allowed ordinary users to create, delete and edit entries increasing the risk of mistakes.

According to lead author Robert Hasty of Campbell University, US, researchers should not use [Wikipedia] as a primary resource because those articles did not go through the same rigorous peer-review process as medical journals.

"The best resource when looking for a diagnosis is to speak with your physician, who can take into account your medical history and other factors to determine the best course  of treatment."

Following its 2001 launch, Wikipedia has become the most popular general reference site on the internet.

With over 31 million entries in 285 languages, the site had over 20,000 entries that are health-related.

According to the team that looked at information on conditions such as diabetes, lung cancer and back pain, the site's prominence had become possible due to its fundamental design as a collaborative database.

However, it was this open collaborative feature that had increased concerns in the medical community regarding the reliability of the information it contained.

Among the errors on the site was an entry telling readers that to correctly diagnose high blood pressure, high readings must be obtained on three occasions.

The researchers said this was not true and could lead to dangerous delay in obtaining treatment.

According to the researchers who wrote the study, published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, physicians and medical students who currently used Wikipedia as a medical reference should be discouraged from doing so because of the potential for errors.

The Telegraph quoted a Wikipedia spokesman as saying, there were a number of initiatives in place to help the continuous improvement of Wikipedia articles, especially in relation to health and medicine.

It was crucial however, that anybody with concerns over their health contacted their GP as a first point of call.

He added, Wikipedia, like any encyclopaedia should not take the place of a qualified medical practitioner.

 search domain-b