Of the Top 10 most-searched medical conditions on Wikipedia, nine contained errors, according to a published study led by Campbell Medical School’s regional associate dean, Dr. Robert Hasty. His article is the nation’s first published study on the accuracy of the world’s most-used medical source.
BUIES CREEK — Dr. Robert Hasty is receiving national attention for the publication of his research on errors found in some of Wikipedia's most used medical articles.
Hasty, regional associate dean and associate professor of internal medicine at Campbell University’s Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine, is the lead author of “Wikipedia vs Peer-Reviewed Medical Literature for Information About the 10 Most Costly Medical Conditions," the first study in the country to examine the accuracy of Wikipedia content for common medical conditions. His findings were published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association on May, and the AOA immediately responded to the demand for more information by collaborating with Dr. Hasty to produce a short video further detailing the findings.
The video, featured on the AOA’s YouTube channel as well as the Medical school’s website and Facebook page, was only the beginning of the national following for the work Hasty began in 2012.
Hasty observed medical students and practitioners often using Wikipedia for quick electronic references in lieu of peer-reviewed medical literature. He was curious about the reliability of a source like Wikipedia which can be edited by anyone. In response, Hasty and some of his residents launched a study on the authenticity of the site.
Over the past two years, Hasty collaborated with a team of 16 medical residents and a statistician to conduct the research. They focused their analysis on the top 10 most costly conditions in terms of public and private expenditure in the United States … and a Wikipedia article corresponding to each condition. The conditions referenced were coronary artery disease, lung cancer, major depressive disorder, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, back pain and hyperlipidemia. Hasty found statistically significant discrepancies between the information in 9 of the 10 selected Wikipedia articles on these conditions when compared with their corresponding peer-reviewed sources.
As the conclusion of their research states:
- Most Wikipedia articles for the 10 costliest conditions in the United States contain errors compared with standard peer-reviewed sources. Health care professionals, trainees, and patients should use caution when using Wikipedia to answer questions regarding patient care.
- Our findings reinforce the idea that physicians and medical students who currently use Wikipedia as a medical reference should be discouraged from doing so because of the potential for errors.
“The idea behind Wikipedia is that the masses make it a better product over time, but our research says it still has a long way to go,” Hasty says. “That’s not to say there aren’t errors in peer-reviewed literature as well. But there’s more cause for concern when the material online doesn’t have the appropriate peer-vetting process.”
According to Hasty there is already a group of UCLA medical students working on a project to improve the site, which he feels is a positive for the future because “Wikipedia has great potential, and our study shows that more work needs to be done to improve accuracy.”
Currently, the research Hasty’s group completed has been featured in The Atlantic, MedPageToday.com, and by Men’s Health. It was also mentioned by a guest on Southern California Public Radio this month and will be featured on the Fayetteville Observer’s blog.
Hasty is pleased with the national attention: “I think that the attention that the article has generated is important, and I would encourage patients to consult their health care providers and not solely rely on information that they find in Wikipedia. I also think it is important for clinicians not to rely on information found in Wikipedia for treatment decisions regarding their patients.”
To read Dr. Hasty’s full findings, click here for the full Journal of the American Osteopathic Association publication.
Also, look for Dr. Hasty’s research featured in the latest issue of Campbell Magazine in an article, “Wiki-Tweaks."