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  • Wikipedia Medical Information Popular But Often Wrong

    When it comes to medical information, Wikipedia's popularity may be exceeded only by its inaccuracy.

    A new study has found that among Wikipedia entries on the most costly conditions, 90% contained errors—a problem made even more troubling given the website's popularity generally, and the fact that 47% to 70% of physicians and medical students admit to using it as a reference.

    In the May issue of the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (.pdf), authors of the study write that "most Wikipedia articles on the 10 most costly conditions in the United States contained assertions that are inconsistent with peer-reviewed sources," and that "these assertions on Wikipedia represent factual errors."

    For the study, authors identified Wikipedia articles addressing heart disease, cancer, mental disorders, trauma-related disorders (concussion), osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes, back problems, and hyperlipidemia. Two reviewers—internal medicine residents or rotating interns—then read each article, identified all assertions made in the article, and verified the accuracy of the assertion by finding concordance in peer-reviewed resources.

    In the end, reviewers identified "statistically significant discordance" between the Wikipedia articles and the peer-reviewed sources in all areas except concussion. Authors were unsure why the concussion entry withstood scrutiny, other than to speculate on the possibility that "the contributors to this particular article were more expert."

    In an editorial (.pdf) accompanying the article, Lori Fitterling, MLS, reference librarian for the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, writes that the study "adds credence to the message librarians have heralded: medical professionals should be educated about and engaged in the critical analysis of online information. In other words, information literacy should provide a basis for evidence-based practice."

    "Would I want my physician to consult Wikipedia about my condition? No," Fitterling writes. "Physicians and medical students, spend your time consulting a credible, peer-reviewed, evidence-based resource. And if you do not know how to do this, let your reference librarian teach you."

    APTA is actively engaged in building the infrastructure that can connect physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) with accurate peer-reviewed information to inform evidence-based practice through its PTNow website. Additionally, the association offers the extensive—and recently revamped—MoveForwardPT.com website that provides timely and accurate health information to consumers.

    Both PTNow.org and MoveForwardPT.com have editorial boards that guide and review content, and APTA’s lead librarian provides assistance to help members optimize their searching experience of the PTNow ArticleSearch.

    Research-related stories featured in News Now are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

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