Should You Trust Your Doctor More Than Wikipedia?

June 3, 2014
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Who can you trust?

Whom can you trust?

Who can you trust?

Whom can you trust?

A BBC article (Trust your doctor, not Wikipedia, say scientists) reports on a US study that finds errors in Wikipedia for 9 of the 10 most expensive conditions. According to the article:

“[Lead author Dr. Robert Hasty] added the ‘best resource’ for people worried about their health was their doctor.”

So scientists have shown that Wikipedia provides inaccurate information and doctors provide accurate information? Not really.

The study in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association did indeed conclude that Wikipedia articles had errors. But the study has serious limitations.

The reviewers didn’t seem to agree with one another on what the errors were, either because the methodology for the study wasn’t sufficiently rigorous or because the reviewers didn’t do a good job of following it. In addition, the definition of an error was whether there was a difference between Wikipedia and the peer-reviewed literature, but as the authors point out, peer reviewed sources don’t always agree with one another.

The study says nothing about whether physicians provide the most up to date information, so we really can’t compare Wikipedia with physicians. The BBC headline is misleading.

The BBC article also misses a larger and more significant point. Experienced physicians do much more than spout the latest peer-reviewed facts about a condition. They integrate clinical symptoms and findings with their knowledge and experience to generate appropriate diagnoses and treatment plans for each individual patient. Even patients who have access to and can comprehend superior professional reference resources such as UpToDate (which the researchers used as the gold standard) still need doctors.

My advice? Find a good physician and develop a relationship with him or her. To understand your condition in depth use UpToDate (there are reasonably priced 7-day and 30-day subscriptions for patients) and read the peer-reviewed articles referenced there.

photo credit: mmechtley via photopin cc