Wikipedia Is Not a Reliable Source of "Actionable" Medical Information

@Laikas, a Dutch medical librarian, took the time to write a long and thoughtful blog post, well-suited for submission to a journal as an editorial:

The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information

She quoted an example which showed that some doctors apparently rely on Wikipedia to the extent they refer to it in medical journal publications - see this Int. J Cardiol. PubMed abstract:

Lee CH, Teo C, Low AF. Fulminant dengue myocarditis masquerading as acute myocardial infarction. Int J Cardiol. 2009 Aug 21;136(3):e69-71. Epub 2008 Aug 13.

The Heart Institute, National University Hospital Singapore, Singapore.

Dengue fever is manifested by a sudden onset of fever (, with severe headache, myalgias (, arthralgias ( and characteristic bright red petechia ( The exact incidence and pathophysiological mechanism of dengue myocarditis remain obscure, but most of these cases are self-limiting. Fatal dengue myocarditis is a very rare complication of dengue fever. The non-specific symptoms and signs of dengue myocarditis make early diagnosis difficult. A 25-year-old Indian male, suffered from fulminant dengue myocarditis, presented to a our hospital with symptoms and electrocardiographic features mimicking acute myocardial infarction. Unfortunately, the patient succumbed before the dengue serology results were available.

In my opinion, Wikipedia is almost impossible to rely on for medical searches - unless you know the material and just use the text/images for illustrative purposes. One of the many differences between a blog and a medical journal is that, for example, I often reference Wikipedia on the blog, but never in a journal.

asked on Twitter: "
If we have come to citing open source, anyone-can-post/edit media, should I be looking for other signs of the apocalypse?"

@Giustini, a Canadian medical librarian, mentioned the well-publicized opinion that "there is nothing wrong starting [a medical search] with Wikipedia but it should never be the last place to search." Humorously, I asked if we should start our medical searches with NYT or WSJ then...

There is even a discussion on FriendFeed which can be summarized as "Is it OK to use Wikipedia citations in Int J Cardiology?"

I have commented on this topic multiple times in the past (please see the links at the end of this post). In short, medical blogs are not a source of "actionable" medical information. The same principle applies to Wikipedia. You must be treated by an expert - not a "crowd" - as in the "wisdom of crowds" concept used by Wikipedia.

Twitter comments:

@chrisseper: "One way to lose confidence in a doc. Ask a medical question and see the doc go online & find the answer via Wikipedia."

@palmdoc: "Would anyone lose confidence in a Doc who looks up Google? I'd be worried if they don't know how to Google."

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