Health information on Wikipedia

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Health information on Wikipedia is popularly accessed as results from search engines and Search engine result page, which frequently deliver links to Wikipedia articles.[1] Independent assessments of the quality of health information provided on Wikipedia and of who is accessing the information have been undertaken. The number and demographics of people who seek health information on Wikipedia, the scope of health information on Wikipedia, and the quality of the information on Wikipedia have been studied.[2] There are drawbacks to using Wikipedia as a source of health information.

Assessments of quality[edit]

A 2008 study reported that drug information on Wikipedia "has a more narrow scope, is less complete, and has more errors of omission" than did such information on the traditionally edited online database Medscape Drug Reference.[3]

A review of nephrology content on Wikipedia found it to be a "a comprehensive and fairly reliable medical resource for nephrology patients that is written at a college reading level".[4]

People who promote alternative medicine have complained that Wikipedia negatively portrays holistic health treatments including energy medicine, Emotional Freedom Techniques, Thought Field Therapy, and Tapas Acupressure Technique.[5] In response, Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales responded to complaints saying "If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately."[5]

In May 2014 the The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association published an article which concluded that "Most Wikipedia articles for the 10 costliest conditions in the United States contain errors compared with standard peer-reviewed sources."[6] Following this paper, many other media sources reported that readers should not trust Wikipedia.[7] Wikipedia's contributors to its health content defended Wikipedia and criticized this study.[8]

A 2014 study found that when the FDA issues new safety warnings about drugs, in 41% of cases reviewed Wikipedia articles about those drugs were updated to give the new safety information within two weeks.[9] Another 23% of Wikipedia drug articles were updated to give this information within an average of about 40 days, but 36% of articles are not updated with this information within a year.[9]

Aspects of use[edit]

Demographics of users[edit]

Wikipedia has been described as "the leading single source of healthcare information for patients and healthcare professionals".[10] Some doctors have described their use of Wikipedia as a "guilty secret" in that they use it but avoid talking about their use of it.[11]

The majority of people in the United States use the Internet as a source of health information.[12] One study has suggested that 22% of healthcare searches online direct users to Wikipedia.[13]

Wikipedia is growing in popularity as a source of health information.[3] As time passes, the quality and scope of information in Wikipedia articles improves.[3]

A study of a particular group of veterinary students found that the majority of these students sought and found medical information on Wikipedia.[14]

Users seeking information about the penis or vagina have made the articles on those topics Wikipedia's most popular anatomy articles.[15]

Ways that Wikipedia is used[edit]

Wikipedia has been inappropriately cited as an authoritative source in many health science journals.[16][17]

Wikipedia's health information has been described as "transforming how our next doctors learn medicine".[18]

A scoping review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research has summarized the evidence about the use of wikis, Wikipedia and other collaborative writing applications in health care (e.g., Google Docs). This scoping review found some experimental and quasi-experimental studies of the effectiveness and safety of wikis as educational and knowledge translation interventions, however, the vast majority of studies are observational case studies about collaborative writing applications being used by health professionals and patients. The scoping review concluded that more primary research was needed to find ways to address the different barriers to their use and to make the collaborative writing applications more useful for different stakeholders.[19]

Just as Google Flu Trends was able to correlate searches for flu to local outbreaks of flu, pageviews of Wikipedia articles on flu-related topics have been found to increase in populations experiencing the spread of flu.[20]


In 2009 a Wikipedia editor, James Heilman, incorporated public domain images of the Rorschach test into Wikipedia.[21] Psychologists complained that the increased public exposure to these tests devalued their clinical utility, and that public health was harmed as a result.[21]

Projects to develop health information on Wikipedia[edit]

In 2009 the National Institutes of Health attempted a pilot project for integrating health information into Wikipedia.[22]

The University of California, San Francisco has a program for encouraging students to contribute health content to Wikipedia.[23]

In response to studies showing that the majority of patients and providers use the Internet to find health information,[24][25] the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Library developed a New Media Primer to increase the skills of health care providers in using social media to share information on public health.[26] A 2012 article from Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario described the development of a disease-specific primer for providers and patients guiding both to the highest quality and most reliable new media sites.[27]


  1. ^ Laurent, M. R.; Vickers, T. J. (2009). "Seeking Health Information Online: Does Wikipedia Matter?". Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association 16 (4): 471–479. doi:10.1197/jamia.M3059. PMC 2705249. PMID 19390105.  edit
  2. ^ Heilman, JM; Kemmann, E; Bonert, M; Chatterjee, A; Ragar, B; Beards, GM; Iberri, DJ; Harvey, M; Thomas, B; Stomp, W; Martone, MF; Lodge, DJ; Vondracek, A; de Wolff, JF; Liber, C; Grover, SC; Vickers, TJ; Meskó, B; Laurent, MR (Jan 31, 2011). "Wikipedia: a key tool for global public health promotion.". Journal of medical Internet research 13 (1): e14. doi:10.2196/jmir.1589. PMC 3221335. PMID 21282098. 
  3. ^ a b c Clauson, K. A; Polen, H. H; Boulos, M. N K.; Dzenowagis, J. H (18 November 2008). "Scope, Completeness, and Accuracy of Drug Information in Wikipedia". Annals of Pharmacotherapy 42 (12): 1814–1821. doi:10.1345/aph.1L474. 
  4. ^ Thomas, G. R.; Eng, L.; De Wolff, J. F.; Grover, S. C. (2013). "An Evaluation of Wikipedia as a Resource for Patient Education in Nephrology". Seminars in Dialysis 26 (2): 159–63. doi:10.1111/sdi.12059. PMID 23432369.  edit
  5. ^ a b Sifferlin, Alexandra (25 March 2014). "Wikipedia Founder Sticks It To ‘Lunatic’ Holistic Healers". Retrieved 26 March 2014. 
  6. ^
    • Hasty, Robert; Garvalosa, Ryan; Barbato, Vincenzo; Valdes, Pedro; Powers, David; Hernandez, Emmanuel; John, Jones; Suciu, Gabriel; Qureshi, Farheen; Popa-Radu, Matei; San Jose, Sergio; Drexler, Nathaniel; Patankar, Rohan; Paz, Jose; King, Christopher; Gerber, Hilary; Valladares, Michael; Somji, Alyaz (2014). "Wikipedia vs Peer-Reviewed Medical Literature for Information About the 10 Most Costly Medical Conditions". The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 114 (05): 368–373. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2014.035. ISSN 0098-6151. 
    • Hasty, Robert (8 May 2014). "Dr. Robert Hasty - Wikipedia vs. Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles". Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Chatterjee, Anwesh; Cooke, Robin M.T.; Furst, Ian; Heilman, James (23 June 2014). "Is Wikipedia’s medical content really 90% wrong?". Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Hwang, Thomas J.; Bourgeois, Florence T.; Seeger, John D. (2014). "Drug Safety in the Digital Age". New England Journal of Medicine 370 (26): 2460–2462. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1401767. ISSN 0028-4793. 
  10. ^ Note - sketchy link requires registration. IMS Health (2014). "The use of Wikipedia in Health Care". Engaging patients through social media Is healthcare ready for empowered and digitally demanding patients?. IMS Health. pp. 16–26. Retrieved 22 January 2014.  Further cited in
  11. ^ Godlee, F. (27 March 2014). "Unethical, a guilty secret, and still crazy after all these years". BMJ 348 (mar27 1): g2396–g2396. doi:10.1136/bmj.g2396. 
  12. ^ Fox S, Jones S. The social life of health information Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project; 11 Jun 2009 [cited 6 Oct 2010]. p.
  13. ^ Makovsky Health (9 September 2013). "Online Health Research Eclipsing Patient-Doctor Conversations - Makovsky". Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  14. ^ Kolski, D; Arlt, S; Birk, S; Heuwieser, W (2013). "Use and acceptance of Wiki systems for students of veterinary medicine". GMS Zeitschrift fur medizinische Ausbildung 30 (1): Doc10. doi:10.3205/zma000853. PMC 3589678. PMID 23467415. 
  15. ^ Blatt, Ben (8 January 2014). "Wikipedia's penis and vagina pages: Their colorful history and popular present.". Slate. Retrieved 9 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Bould, M. D.; Hladkowicz, E. S.; Pigford, A.-A. E.; Ufholz, L.-A.; Postonogova, T.; Shin, E.; Boet, S. (6 March 2014). "References that anyone can edit: review of Wikipedia citations in peer reviewed health science literature". BMJ 348 (mar05 4): g1585–g1585. doi:10.1136/bmj.g1585. 
  17. ^ Blackwell, Tom (12 March 2014). "‘It’s against all principles of scientific reporting’: Thousands of medical papers cite Wikipedia, study says". National Post. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  18. ^ Morris, Nathaniel P. (18 November 2013). "Wikipedia's role in medical education brings awesome promise ­— and a few risks". Retrieved 21 November 2013. 
  19. ^ Archambault, Patrick M; van de Belt, Tom H; Grajales III, Francisco J; Faber, Marjan J; Kuziemsky, Craig E; Gagnon, Susie; Bilodeau, Andrea; Rioux, Simon; Nelen, Willianne LDM; Gagnon, Marie-Pierre; Turgeon, Alexis F; Aubin, Karine; Gold, Irving; Poitras, Julien; Eysenbach, Gunther; Kremer, Jan AM; Légaré, France (8 October 2013). "Wikis and Collaborative Writing Applications in Health Care: A Scoping Review". Journal of Medical Internet Research 15 (10): e210. doi:10.2196/jmir.2787. PMID 24103318. 
  20. ^ McIver, David J.; Brownstein, John S.; Salathé, Marcel (17 April 2014). "Wikipedia Usage Estimates Prevalence of Influenza-Like Illness in the United States in Near Real-Time". PLoS Computational Biology 10 (4): e1003581. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003581. 
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Moorhead, SA; Hazlett, DE, Harrison, L, et al. (2013). "A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication". Journal of medical Internet research 15 (4): e85. doi:10.2196/jmir.1933. PMC 3636326. PMID 23615206. 
  25. ^ Huang, GJ; Penson, DF (2008). "Internet health resources and the cancer patient". Cancer Investigation 26 (2): 202–207. doi:10.1080/07357900701566197. PMID 18259953. 
  26. ^ "New Media Primer for Health Professionals". Retrieved 16 November 2013. 
  27. ^ Fortinsky, KJ; Fournier, MR, Benchimol, E (2012). "Internet and electronic resources for inflammatory bowel disease: a primer for providers and patients". Inflammatory Bowel Disease 18 (6): 1156–63. doi:10.1002/ibd.22834. PMID 22147497.