If you’re looking for up-to-date medical information, it’s best to avoid Wikipedia, researchers warn.
A new study says health entries on the Web’s most popular crowdsourced encyclopedia are riddled with errors.
According to the report, published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, U.S. researchers found that 90 percent of Wikipedia entries related to the 10 costliest medical conditions, including coronary disease and back pain, contained inaccuracies and antiquated data.
"While Wikipedia is a convenient tool for conducting research, from a public health standpoint patients should not use it as a primary resource,” Robert Hasty, of the Campbell University Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine in North Carolina and lead author of the study, said in a video statement.
Hasty points out that because Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, it is not held to the same standard as peer-reviewed medical journals. Drug companies have even been accused of deleting side-effects information from the site, Daily Mail notes.
After comparing Wikipedia entries for 10 of the most common ailments with the latest research from peer-reviewed medical journals, Hasty and his team found that nine out of 10 entries contained assertions that contradicted current research.
The only entry that passed Hasty’s scrutiny was on concussions.
The other entries they analyzed were coronary artery disease, lung cancer, major depressive disorder, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, back pain and hyperlipidemia.
“Despite these concerns, Wikipedia has become a popular source of health care information, with 47 percent to 70 percent of physicians and medical students admitting to using it as a reference,” researchers wrote. “In actuality, these figures may be higher because some researchers suspect its use is underreported."
They added: “Although the effect of Wikipedia's information on medical decision-making is unclear, it almost certainly has an influence.”
According to a Pew Research study from earlier this year, one-third of U.S. adults have used the Internet to self-diagnose a medical condition. Another study found that 50 percent of physicians had admitted to using Wikipedia as a reference source in their practice.