Wikipedia has wrong information on top medical ailments, study finds

May 30, 2014

Though more patients and physicians are searching Wikipedia for information on illnesses, a study confirms that the website gets details on the most costly diseases wrong.

Though more patients and physicians are searching Wikipedia for information on illnesses, a study confirms that the website gets details on the most costly diseases wrong.

The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association compared Wikipedia articles on the 10 most expensive medical conditions to peer-reviewed medical literature, and found that Wikipedia had wrong information on all 10 ailments.

The medical conditions researched include:

  • Heart disease

  • Cancer

  • Mental disorders

  • Trauma-related disorders

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary /asthma

  • Hypertension

  • Diabetes

  • Back problems

  • Hyperlipidemia

The study was especially critical of medical professionals who use Wikipedia instead of peer-reviewed material.

“Health care professionals, trainees, and patients should use caution when using Wikipedia to answer questions regarding patient care,” say the study’s authors. “Our findings reinforce the idea that physicians and medical students who currently use Wikipedia as a medical reference should be discouraged from doing so because of the potential for errors.”

Research shows that both doctors and their patients are “symptom searching” using Google, Wikipedia and other websites offering medical information that is often unverified or out of date. According to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, Wikipedia is the top source of medical information for healthcare professionals and patients, and half of doctors report using the website for information.

“The top 100 English Wikipedia pages for healthcare topics were accessed, on average, 1.9 million times during the past year,” states the IMS report, which was released in January 2014. “Rarer diseases, which often have fewer available information sources and are less understood by patients and clinicians, show a higher frequency of visits than many more common diseases. In an assessment of 50 major disease-specific Wikipedia articles, the Institute found a strong correlation between page views and medicine use, with online information-gathering occurring throughout the patient journey.”

One in three adults have gone online to “diagnose” a medical condition, with 41% saying a medical professional confirmed their diagnoses, according to a 2013 survey by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Twenty percent of physicians say that when patients look for symptoms online it leads to misinformation and wrong diagnoses, while 53% of physicians say that it leads positive, more informed patients, according to a 2011 Wolters Kluwer Health survey.