Medical Professionals Using Wikipedia As Major Source Of Information


If you have an internet connection, then it’s probable that you’ve stumbled across a Wikipedia page before. Wikipedia is the most-used source for finding information in the world, and it has obvious uses for struggling students looking for a good start to their research. But, Wikipedia is much more than a resource for high school and college kids to get a little help on their finals. In fact, a new study suggests that Wikipedia is one of the primary sources for medical professionals to brush up on concepts in their field. This might sound like a dangerous path for doctors especially considering that Wikipedia’s reliability is always up for debate. But, is it really that bad for doctors to get their information from a freely edited internet encyclopedia?

stethoscope lying on keyboard of a laptop

Laptop and Stethoscope

It really depends on who you ask and how the information is being used once it’s received. Staunch opponents of Wikipedia will tell you that a doctor looking up medical information on the site is questionable at best and potentially harmful at worst. In fact, if you were to ask most people, they would probably tell you that they don’t want their personal physicians looking up information about a disease or ailment through Wikipedia.

Still, the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics recently reported that Wikipedia isn’t just a source that medical professionals use frequently. It is, in fact, the top source of information for medical professionals, with over 50% of physicians using the website for finding healthcare data. This is certainly a unique finding, and one that many patients might find disconcerting. After all, if your doctor needs to look up information regarding your own health, then you might not feel comfortable with their prognoses or prescriptions. Indeed, most patients might feel as if they can do their own medical research on Wikipedia to find out how best to treat themselves.

In fact, many patients do use Wikipedia as a source for healthcare information. Wikipedia receives the most page hits on articles related to the medical world. In particular, diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease all received 4 million views in 2013. Ailments that weren’t as common still commonly received around 2 million views on average. Healthcare-related searches were some of the most common on Wikipedia, which essentially means that people trust the site to provide at least marginally accurate information.

Medical professionals using wikipedia as major source of information
Although known for its many cases of vandalism and the ability to put just about anything on a page at any given time, Wikipedia still maintains a rather strict code of ethics. Most pages (especially those related to the medical field) are frequently scoured for misinformation. Everything on a Wikipedia page must be properly sourced, and many medical professionals are assisting in the creation of articles on healthcare topics.

That being said, it’s always important to trust your doctor, even if they have been known to consult a Wikipedia page from time to time. While Wikipedia is certainly not perfect, it can act as a sort of refresher for some physicians who do not have the time to study all the newest updates on an obscure disease. It’s likely that few doctors use the website as their only source of information or as a source that is consistently accurate. Wikipedia is not a bible; it’s more like a help guide. No one should be diagnosing anyone from the pages of Wikipedia, but for quick and easy access to medical information, it doesn’t get any better than a free online encyclopedia.

Image source:
jfcherry @ flickr.com
lifementalhealthpics @ flickr.com

William Regis is a medical assistant in northern Indiana. He is pursuing his education at Andrews University where he is studying anesthesiology.
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