Using Wikipedia to self-diagnose is dangerous to your health. Here's why


Scientists warn people from using Wikipedia for their medical concerns after nine out of 10 entries on serious conditions were found erroneous.

Doctors studied 10 medical articles on Wikipedia and found nine of them to be inaccurate. It's mainly because Wikipedia allows users to control its content which can result to errors. Unlike a traditional encyclopedia, ordinary users can create, edit and remove the entries, which make it more at risk of mistakes. Wikipedia has a total of 31 million entries and at least 20,000 articles are related to health.

"Researchers should not use [Wikipedia] as a primary resource because those articles do not go through the same peer-review processes as medical journals. The best resource when looking for a diagnosis is to speak with your physician, who can take into account your medical history and other factors to determine the best course of treatment," said lead researcher Robert Hasty from Campbell University 

The researchers chose [pdf] 10 of the costliest conditions in both private and public expenditures such as back pain, diabetes, major depressive disorder and lung cancer. They compared Wikipedia entries about these conditions to medical literature. Two investigators discovered that 90 percent of the entries provided false information that could make an impact on disease diagnosis and treatment.

Drug makers were also accused of removing Wikipedia references to adverse side effects of medicines. In 2009, AstraZeneca employees allegedly removed a sentence that claims a treatment for manic depression causes teenagers to think about killing or harming themselves. A major concern is that even medical staff checks the website once in a while. Almost 50 to 70 percent of physicians use the website as a source in providing medical care.

A Wikipedia representative said that several initiatives are already in place to improve Wikipedia entries, especially those related to medicine and health. An example is WikiProject Medicine which brings volunteers to edit topics they are knowledgeable about. The volunteers identify entries that need improvement, collaborate on entries and use credible sources to make them more readable and accurate. He claims that many mistakes are relatively minor but some could lead to clinical implications. It is important that people with health concerns contact their GP first and should not use Wikipedia to replace a qualified medical practitioner.

Doctors who are involved in creating and editing Wikipedia articles are urged to improve on accuracy. The study shows that a quarter of 1,000 women in 2012 often diagnosed themselves wrongly with thrush, breast cancer, high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes. Research suggests that 72 percent of Internet users look up their health concerns online in 2013.

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