Study: Most Wikipedia articles about medical conditions contain errors

Published: Oct. 3, 2014 at 3:52 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 3, 2014 at 3:57 AM CDT
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JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Doctors said relying on Wikipedia for medical information is a mistake.

A research article in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association compared Wikipedia to medical journals and found major flaws in articles regarding diabetes, high blood pressure, lung cancer and more.

People expect a simple Google search to give them a correct answer, but one local doctor said just because it's quick, does not mean it's right.

"Everybody uses Wikipedia and everybody uses Google, but it's not the place to go for your health care needs," said Dr. Shane Speights with St. Bernards Medical Center.

The research article did not give specifics but stated the biggest flaws in the Wikipedia articles were in how patients should manage and treat the medical conditions.

"If individuals start looking up high blood pressure and diabetes and start assuming that's all fact in there, that would be a mistake," Dr. Speights said.

He said people then make bad decisions based on bad medical information.

"When it comes to your health care, you want the right answer, not the quickest," Dr. Speights said.

To test the article's results, Dr. Speights looked up another major medical condition that was not included in the study: Ebola.

"I Google Ebola and the second one is Wikipedia," he said. "That's the first one people click on because they think, 'Well, it's the easiest and maybe it's the best.'"

But Dr. Speights said that's wrong. He noticed errors early on in the Wikipedia article on Ebola.

"I don't know about this, where they sited it," he said. "They sited the New York Times Magazine. We don't do that."

Dr. Speights said doctors never cite newspaper articles, rather journal articles and studies.

"So even on Ebola, just in this quick review here, we found this is not referenced correctly," he said. "They try to cite it but they can't verify all of those. You're talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of entries in Wikipedia. There's no way that humans can sit down, go through all of those and verify that information with any significant accuracy."

Dr. Speights said people can find better information by taking a few more seconds to scroll down the Google search results page.

"It's going to be right here at the CDC," he said. "That's a reputable website. It's fifth down the page."

Dr. Speights said the following websites are reputable sources that he would recommend using for medical information: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and New England Journal of Medicine.

"They're actually going to look at the information and make sure that there is good, reliable facts behind the information they post," he said.

Ultimately, Dr. Speights said if people have a question regarding a medical condition, instead of asking Google, ask a doctor.

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