So you might want to stop consulting Dr. Wikipedia for medical advice: Many health-related Wikipedia articles contain factual errors, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
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Researchers selected the 10 most common and costly medical conditions in the United States (including heart disease, cancer, mental disorders, trauma-related disorders, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive lung disease/asthma, hypertension, diabetes, back problems, and hyperlipidemia) then selected the most comprehensive Wikipedia page for each condition.
Next, 10 reviewersÃ¢â‚¬”either internal medicine residents or rotating internsÃ¢â‚¬”fact checked those 10 Wikipedia articles against peer-reviewed research published or updated in the last five years. Unfortunately, nine of the 10 articles had contradicting or inaccurate information when crosschecked against the peer-reviewed research articles. And even though this was a very small sample size, the study authors suggest that the majority of other health-related Wikipedia articles may have misleading or outdated information as well.
Now, we're willing to bet that you (or someone you know) has turned to Dr. Wikipedia once or twice, but here's what's even more concerning: Physicians also turn to this website, says study co-author Hilary Gerber, D.O. Previous research has found that between 47 percent and 70 percent of doctors and medical students admit to referencing Wikipedia, according to the present study. Yikes.
Listen, we know it's tempting to Google your weird symptoms, and it's not always forbidden. In fact, it can sometimes be helpful to look up your signs and symptoms before seeing a doctor so that you're more prepared during the appointment, says Saralyn Mark, M.D., like if you have a weird skin reaction or a cough that you're unsure about. Just remember that the majority of the information you find may not be relevant or accurate, and it can be easy to fall into a "Yep, definitely dying" rabbit hole while searching.
So how can you separate the good information from the bad? For reputable sources, look for nonprofit, ".org" websites, which are usually dedicated to specific illnesses (like the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society). These often provide helpful resource pages with easy-to-digest information. You can also look to medical center-affiliated sites like Mayo Clinic, as they often include expert testimony, says Gerber. Government-affiliated sources (such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) also have research-backed information on a wider variety of diseases, says Mark.
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But never assume that a simple Google search is a stand-in for traditional medical care. Even after you've done your homework, don't just rely on it to diagnose or treat yourself, says Mark. Instead, bring what you found (either electronically or on paper) to your doctor, says Gerber. This way you both know where your information is coming from and you can work together to get to the root of your problem.
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