SALT LAKE CITY — People will often use Wikipedia as a starting point for research, but that might not a good idea when it comes to medical topics, according to a new study.
When researchers identified the 10 most costly medical conditions and compared the Wikipedia articles on those topics to peer-reviewed sources, they found factual errors in nine of the 10 articles, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
“While Wikipedia is a convenient tool for conducting research, from a public health standpoint patients should not use it as a primary resource because those articles do not go through the same peer-review process as medical journals,” lead author Robert T. Hasty said in a statement.
The researchers examined entries for conditions including heart disease, diabetes, lung cancer, major depressive disorder and back pain. The assertions made in each article were identified and compared to evidence found in peer-reviewed articles, according to the study.
"While Wikipedia is a convenient tool for conducting research, from a public health standpoint patients should not use it as a primary resource..."
There were "many errors" in nine of the 10 articles, researchers wrote in the study.
Instead of only using Wikipedia, researchers encouraged people to pull information from multiple resources when researching medical topics and look for websites that have a medical advisory board or that are peer-reviewed. They also recommended using sites that are run by public health authorities like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services.
Hasty said patients aren't the only ones who need to be wary relying on Wikipedia — doctors also need to be cautious when using Wikipedia as a reference. According to a recent report, 50 percent of physicians use Wikipedia for information.
He encouraged health care professionals to participate in editing Wikipedia articles to help make them more accurate.