According a recent study, 50 percent of physicians who go online for professional reasons use Wikipedia to answer health questions, and the number of doctors who this popular user-generated web encyclopedia has doubled over the past year.
The explanation for this is simple. Doctors, like everybody else, often turn to search engines like Google to quickly find information, and Wikipedia entries tend to come up among the top results.
The fact that Wikipedia is updated in real-time can make it useful for keeping up with new guidelines for managing conditions.
The problem, however, is the accuracy of these articles. Many are written and edited by people not trained in medicine. and despite attempts at quality control and constant editing, errors and fraudulent information may go unnoticed or unchallenged.
Furthermore, a second study looked at how Wikipedia dealt with drug information, and found that its scope was inferior to traditional medication guides. And worse, pharmaceutical companies were caught deleting negative mentions and side effects.
The bottom line is that Wikipedia can be useful to help disseminate breaking medical information. But we have to maintain a healthy skepticism, and Wikipedia should be by no means relied on as an authoritative medical resource.
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