Study: 90% of health-related Wikipedia pages contain errors

Researchers analyzed data on the 10 'most costly' conditions

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

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.

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

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.

Wikipedia is doctors' top source for medical information

Concerns over open access format

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.

How Wikipedia is trying to become a better source for doctors

Lead study author Robert Hasty, with the Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine in North Carolina, says, "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 adds that physicians are the "best resource" for medical information.

UC-San Francisco to offer credit to med students who edit Wikipedia

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" (Stephens, BBC News, 5/27; Hasty et al., JAOA, 5/1).


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