Trust your doctor, not Wikipedia?


“Trust your doctor, not Wikipedia” is the headline on a report on the BBC News website’s Health section.  This story focuses on the output of a paper published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.  It states that there are fundamental problems with nine out of 10 of the online encyclopaedia’s health entries.  The information, all of which can be edited by anyone, made statements which contradicted latest medical research.  With Wikipedia being the sixth most popular site on the internet, this clearly poses a high risk of misinformation for any patient who prefers to do their own research than to “trouble their doctor”.
This risk to patients is the key focus of the BBC report.  However, there is one short statement which any doctor involved in the teaching, support and development of others should take time to consider:  Up to 70% of physicians and medical students use Wikipedia.
There are many potential sources of incorrect or outdated information for learners in medicine.  The ongoing, progression of discovery will always mean that knowledge and best practice must continually be updated.  As a result, the papers which were at one time considered essential reading are naturally superceded.  They do not, however, cease to exist.
Students will often go “off-piste” from any reference lists which are fed to them.  The end result of such self-directed exploration can be greatly enhanced learning.  Alternatively, it could lead to disastrous misinformation.  On our Teach the Teacher Course for Doctors we discuss the importance of the teacher understanding where the learners in their care are accessing information.  Once we establish the importance, we discuss how the teacher can achieve such understanding.
It is paramount that our developing doctors are growing their knowledge from reliable, up to date, peer reviewed materials.  Many of us diligently create an “Essential Reading List” for guidance.  How many of us create “A Don’t Read List” to steer learners away from Wikipedia; from the outdated and from the discredited?  Should we?