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. 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. There are drawbacks to using Wikipedia as a source of health information.
Assessments of quality
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.
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. 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."
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." Following this paper, many other media sources reported that readers should not trust Wikipedia. Wikipedia's contributors to its health content defended Wikipedia and criticized this study.
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. 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.
Aspects of use
Demographics of users
Wikipedia has been described as "the leading single source of healthcare information for patients and healthcare professionals". 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.
A study of a particular group of veterinary students found that the majority of these students sought and found medical information on Wikipedia.
Ways that Wikipedia is used
Wikipedia's health information has been described as "transforming how our next doctors learn medicine".
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.
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.
In 2009 a Wikipedia editor, James Heilman, incorporated public domain images of the Rorschach test into Wikipedia. Psychologists complained that the increased public exposure to these tests devalued their clinical utility, and that public health was harmed as a result.
Projects to develop health information on Wikipedia
In response to studies showing that the majority of patients and providers use the Internet to find health information, 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. 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.
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