Migraine and Other Health Info on Wikipedia Is Broadly Unreliable

Patient Expert

Do you turn to Wikipedia for information about migraines, headaches, or other health issues? If so, you need to know what a recent study had to say about Wikipedia.

Startlingly, up to 70% of doctors and medical students use Wikipedia as a reference. In light of this and for other reasons, members of the American Osteopathic Association set out to evaluate the accuracy of Wikipedia entries on health conditions.

The Study:

Study Methods:

  • Researchers set out to compare Wikipedia articles for the 10 most costly conditions in the United States with peer-reviewed information.
  • They chose to look at cost figures for 2008 as it was the year that the most complete data in terms of public and private expenditures was available.
  • The 10 conditions were chosen based on listings of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
  • They and printed the Wikipedia articles that most closely matched the conditions, and provided them to 10 reviewers.
  • The conditions and the corresponding Wikipedia articles were:
    • Heart disease Coronary > artery disease
    • Cancer > Lung cancer
    • Mental health disorders > Major depressive disorder
    • Trauma-related disorders > Concussion
    • Osteoarthritis > Osteoarthritis
    • Chronic obstructive lung disease/asthma > Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    • Hypertension > Hypertension
    • Hypertension > Hypertension
    • Back problems > Back pain
    • Hyperlipidemia > Hyperlipidemia

Study Results:

  • Reviewers found a statistically significant discordance between Wikipedia articles and peer-reviewed sources for assertions that were similar in all but one of the conditions - Trauma related disorders / concussion.
  • Reviewers found a statistically significant discordance between Wikipedia articles and peer-reviewed sources for assertions that were dissimilar in all four conditions:
    • major depressive disorder,
    • osteoarthritis,
    • chronic obstructive lung disease/asthma, and diabetes mellitus.

Study Conclusions:

The authors stated their conclusions quite succinctly, so quoting from the journal article:

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.

Summary and Comments:

The "politics" of and inaccuracies in Wikipedia articles have been at topic of conversation for quite some time. The basic premise behind Wikipedia was interesting and had great potential. Sadly, some of the articles, including their article about migraine, became arenas for power struggles among the "editors" of the pages (anyone could register as an editor). Arguments among the editors became copious, and Wikipedia management had a tendency, when complaints were made, to side with those who had been there longer rather than looking at the qualifications of all of the individuals. Thus, in some cases, physicians and researchers were banned from making edits, and the pages were left in the hands of those with less knowledge.

The result of all of this has been that I've been distrustful of Wikipedia content for some years now. When I come across online content that uses Wikipedia as a source, I classify it as undependable and leave it.

This article by Hasty et. al. comes as no surprise to me. I'm happy to see this journal article because I hope people will take it seriously and stop using Wikipedia for health-related information. Most especially, I hope to see a dramatic decline in the percentage of doctors and medical students who use Wikipedia as a reference.


Hasty, Robert T., DO; Garbalosa, Ryan C.; Barbato, Vincent A., DO; Valdes, Pedro J., Jr., DO; Powers, David W., DO; Hernancez, Emmanuel, DO; Jones, John S., DO; Suciu, Babriel, PhD, MSPH; Qureshi, Farheen, DO; Popa-Radu, Matei, DO; San Jose, Sergio, DO; Drexler, Nathaniel, DO; Patankar, Rohan, DO; Paz, Jose R., DO; King, Christopher W., DO; Gerbery, Hilary N., DO; Valladares, MichaelG., DO, MS; Somji, Alyaz A. DO. "Wikipedia vs Peer-Reviewed Medical Literature for Information About the 10 Most Costly Medical Conditions." J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2014;114(5):368-373. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2014.035

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