New research shows consumers who glean all their health information from the online resource Wikipedia are missing out on the vital details of medications like harmful drug interactions and adverse effects.
“If people went and used this as a sole or authoritative source without contacting a health professional…those are the types of negative impacts that can occur,” Dr. Kevin A. Clauson of Nova Southeastern University in Palm Beach Gardens in Florida said.
His research team found few factual errors in their evaluation of Wikipedia entries on 80 drugs.
However, the online entries were often missing important information, like the fact that the anti-inflammatory drug Arthrotec can cause pregnant women to miscarry, or that St. John’s wort can interfere with the action of the HIV drug Prezista.
Clauson and his colleagues investigated the accuracy and completeness of drug information on Wikipedia because one third of people doing health-related Internet searches are looking for information on over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Experts say a Wikipedia entry is often the first to appear with a Google search.
Researchers compared Wikipedia to Medscape Drug Reference (MDR), a peer-reviewed, free site, by examining answers to 80 different questions in eight categories of drug information.
They found MDR gave answers to 82.5 percent of the questions, while Wikipedia could only answer 40 percent. Answers were also less likely to be complete for Wikipedia.
None of the answers the researchers found on Wikipedia were factually wrong, while MDR contained four inaccurate answers.
“I think that these errors of omission can be just as dangerous” as inaccuracies, Clauson said.
He put some of the blame on drug company representatives who have been caught in the past deleting information from Wikipedia entries that make their drugs look unsafe.
Clauson said that after 90 days, the Wikipedia entries showed a “marked improvement” in scope.
Wikipedia should not be the final word on any topic-and should certainly not be used as a resource by medical professionals, according to Clauson.
“You still probably want to go to medlineplus.gov or medscape.com for good quality information that you can feel confident in,” he said.
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