What Wikipedia gets wrong

A review of Wikipedia articles about the 10 most costly conditions in the U.S. revealed nine of them had information that differed from peer-reviewed literature on the same topic.

This finding is perhaps not surprising, given the design of Wikipedia as a collaborative database where users can edit any of the information provided. But the site’s accuracy is important to understand because of recent research that shows both providers and patients access the site for medical information. Surveys have demonstrated that 47 to 70 percent of physicians and medical students have used it as a reference.

Study authors Robert T. Hasty, DO, of Campbell University Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and colleagues, randomly assigned two investigators to independently review all assertions made in each article. Findings were published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

They focused on the most costly medical conditions in the U.S., which included coronary artery disease, lung cancer, major depressive disorder, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, back pain, hyperlipidemia and concussion.

Assertions in nine of the 10 articles had significant discordance with corresponding peer-reviewed sources. Only the article on concussions did not.

“Because our standard was the peer-reviewed published literature, it can be argued that these assertions on Wikipedia represent factual errors,” wrote the authors.

Hasty and colleagues said providers and patients should use caution when consulting Wikipedia about care. “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.”