Half of all doctors are relying on Wikipedia for clinical information, especially for rare diseases. Is it up to the task?
The open-editing resource has been criticized for being open-access, and hence vulnerable to hacks and partisan attacks. But there have been efforts to get professionals involved in cleaning up the health-care related pages via informal or formal working groups, notably by James Heilman, MD, a Canadian ER physician
Now, a report suggests that Wikipedia is the single leading source of medical information for patients and health care professionals.
In 2012, 72% of Americans had searched online for health care information, while nearly 50% of U.S. physicians who went online for professional purposes used Wikipedia. The top 100 English Wikipedia pages for health care topics were accessed, on average, 1.9 million times apiece during the past year.
Rarer diseases show a higher frequency of visits than many more common diseases. The authors noted correlations between Wikipedia access to disease and to the use of medicines for those conditions.
The report, from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, an information and technology services company, can be accessed after a free registration. The entries on Wikipedia begin on page 16.
The top 10 conditions accessed at the site, with annual page views from more than 4 million to more than 2 million, were: tuberculosis, Crohn’s disease, pneumonia, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, gout, meningitis, Down’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and gastroenteritis.
To gauge the site’s accuracy, the report’s authors looked at how editorial control of 5 Wikipedia articles was done for the conditions of diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer and prostate cancer. The content was changed an average of between 16 and 46 times per month since their creation, or almost 17,000 major changes in total, with many major changes for each disease state.
“In the current environment in which Wikipedia changes are being conducted, none of the traditional stakeholders for patient information, such as regulators and pharmaceutical companies, is actively engaged in the development of information or in ensuring its correctness, the authors wrote. “… Even if the healthcare stakeholders are not involved in correcting and reviewing online information on portals like Wikipedia, they must be aware of and recognize the temporal state of the resources that patients, care-givers and physicians rely on throughout their treatment journey.”