Study: Wikipedia Drug References Often Inaccurate, Outdated

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A generic photo of prescription drugs. (credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

A generic photo of prescription drugs. (credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

CBS Connecticut (con't)

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BOSTON (CBS Connecticut) – A new study claims that Wikipedia is inaccurate and outdated when it comes to its entries about prescription medications.

Wikipedia is a free-content Internet encyclopedia that can be edited by anybody.

“And the problem is that patients may not have the background or training to assess what’s good medical information and what’s not,” John Seeger, an assistant professor in the division of pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and women’s Hospital in Boston, and the study’s co-author, told HealthDay. “So if the information they find online isn’t up-to-date, we have a real challenge.

Seeger and his team estimated that more than half of all Americans in 2013 looked online for some form of medical information.

The most popular ways were to search through Google, or to go directly to WebMD and Wikipedia.

Wikipedia has 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors a month, making it the fifth most visited website only behind Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google, according to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia does have some entries locked to prevent “online vandalism,” but most postings are accessible to anyone.

Wikipedia says they have about 80,000 contributors make updates to its nearly 30 million entries.

The researchers decided to explore to what degree Wikipedia entries reflected U.S. Food and Drug Administration drug-safety communications in an accurate and timely manner.

They looked at 22 drug-safety warnings regarding prescription medications that the FDA issued over a two-year period between 2011 and 2012.

The researchers looked 60 days before the warning and up to 60 days after the warning and found the Wikipedia entries related to each drug were outdated, according to HealthDay.

During the study, there were over 13 million searchers of those drugs on Google and about 5 million views on Wikipedia. During that time period, there was an 82 percent average increase in the number of Google searchers, and a 175 percent increase in the number of page views for the drugs included in the warnings, according to the study.

Overall, 41 percent of Wikipedia entries had been updated within two weeks following an FDA safety warning, HealthDay reports.

The researchers also found that drugs that are prescribed more than 1 million times across the country are more likely to be updated.

Despite these findings, the researchers still believe that patients hear of FDA warnings in a timely fashion.

“This is evidenced by the sharp increase in online activity around these products just after the communications,” Seeger told HealthDay.

Seeger advises patients to seek out multiple sources when looking for updates online.

The findings were published in the June 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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