Originally published December 17 2008
Important Drug Information Often Missing from Wikipedia
by Reuben Chow
(NaturalNews) Go to Google.com, key in terms such as "aspirin", "panadol", "beta blockers", "warfarin" or "statin", and a Wikipedia page will be somewhere near the top of the first page of search results. With many people searching online for health-related information, and a significant proportion of them looking up pharmaceutical drugs, it is important that the information provided on Wikipedia is unbiased, accurate and complete. However, a study which was published in the December 2008 issue of The Annals of Pharmacotherapy has suggested otherwise, having discovered that Wikipedia pages are often missing important information on pharmaceutical drug medications, including possible dangerous side effects and drug interactions.
Wikipedia is a free-to-access online encyclopedia featuring just about any topic of interest you can imagine, be it history, science, famous people or places. It has millions of pages covering over 250 languages. You can think of any subject matter – sports teams, flowers, songs, brand names – type it into Google and, chances are, a Wikipedia page will appear in the top ten results.
Wikipedia is unique in that users can add and edit content. This makes Wikipedia a global free marketplace of information, with content provided for users by users.
Details and Findings of Study
In the study, the research team analyzed Wikipedia pages relating to 80 different drugs. While they discovered few factual errors, they also found that Wikipedia pages tended to leave out important information on pharmaceutical drugs. For example, one potential dangerous adverse effect of the anti-inflammatory drug Arthrotec (diclofenac and misoprostol) is that it can cause miscarriage, yet this piece of information is omitted. Another example of missing information is the possibility of the herb St John's Wort interfering with the action of Prezista (darunavir), a HIV drug.
"If people went and used this as a sole or authoritative source without contacting a health professional, [...] those are the types of negative impacts that can occur," said Dr Kevin A Clauson of Nova Southeastern University in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, the leader of the study.
As a benchmark, the study team compared Wikipedia to Medscape Drug Reference (MDR), a peer-reviewed free website. They put together 80 questions relating to 8 categories of drug information, such as how they work, dosages and potential side effects, and looked for the answers on the two websites.
The researchers found that Wikipedia actually fared better in terms of accuracy. Wikipedia answers did not show up any factual inaccuracies, while there were four on MDR. The problem though, was what was not discussed on Wikipedia – it only managed to answer 40% of the questions, as compared with 82.5% for MDR. Wikipedia answers were also less likely to be complete. While there were only 14 errors of omission for MDR, there were 48 for Wikipedia.
And omitted information can be very critical missing links, especially when something as potentially dangerous as pharmaceutical drugs is involved. "I think that these errors of omission can be just as dangerous", said Dr Clauson.
What was interesting was the study team's discovery that Wikipedia information tended to show "marked improvement" after a 90-day period, perhaps indicating that information provided by the free market is always evolving and improving.
What was not so encouraging, in fact very frightening, however, was that, according to Dr Clauson, representatives from drug companies have been caught deleting information from Wikipedia pages, information which might make their drugs seem unsafe. With a third of people carrying out health-related searches on the internet said to be looking for prescription and over-the-counter drug information, this is something which the general public must be extremely wary about.
The Bottom Line
Broadly speaking, Wikipedia is still a good source of information for most things. But, as Dr Clauson puts it, it should not be used as the sole resource, and certainly should not be a resource for medical professionals. "You still probably want to go to medlineplus.gov or medscape.com for good quality information that you can feel confident in," he said.
If you or people you know use Wikipedia as a source of drug information, then you should take note of the findings of this study. They could quite literally save lives.
Wikipedia often omits important drug information: study (http://www.reuters.com/article/internetNews/...)
About the authorReuben Chow has a keen interest in natural health and healing as well as personal growth. His website, All 4 Natural Health, offers a basic guide on natural health information. It details simple, effective and natural ways, such as the use of nutrition, various herbs, herb remedies, supplements and other natural remedies, to deal with various health conditions as well as to attain good health. His other websites also cover topics such as depression help, omega 3 fatty acids, as well as cancer research and information.
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