Fixing Wikipedia

Apr 10, 2014

Peter Houston
As I started writing this, my 77-year old mother-in-law was taken ill; she had suffered a silent ischemia. A few days in hospital and she was back home, tired but on the mend. One of the medications prescribed was Warfarin. She wasn't especially happy—the name rang a rat-shaped bell for her—so I suggested a quick Google search to find out more. Close to the top of the results list, we found Wikipedia's page on the anticoagulant.

With one search, my mother-in-law and I joined the millions of people who turn to the Internet for health information every month and end up on Wikipedia, "the free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit."

According to "Engaging Patients Through Social Media," a survey report released in January by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, Wikipedia is now the leading single source of healthcare information for patients and healthcare professionals.

The report shows that the top 25 Wikipedia healthcare pages were each accessed more that 2 million times in a 12-month period, with the Tuberculosis page topping the list at 4.2 million visits a year. Patients are using the site throughout their healthcare journeys, not just when treatment starts or changes. Healthcare professionals (HCPs) also use it to research specific conditions, especially for rarer diseases that are less well understood at the general practice level.

As many as three-quarters of patients with Internet access in the United States search for healthcare information online; in Europe, the figure is as high as 80%. Almost half of US physicians using the Internet for professional purposes reference Wikipedia; it could be as high as 75% in Europe.

Searches don't necessarily start on Wikipedia, but a high percentage end up there. A recent post on the eConsultancy digital marketing blog reported that Wikipedia entries are likely to feature heavily in any web search, second only to brand names or related URLs. eConsultancy's "Wikipedia and SEO" post claims that where searches are focused on more generic information, disease states for example, Wikipedia is likely to rank first.

Wikipedia scores highly with search engines which, like the general public, trust its content, recognize the breadth of information it contains and its global, multi-lingual nature. The free-to-access content is generally regarded to be of a high standard, especially when compared with information available through un-moderated social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

The fact that patients turn to the Internet, and ultimately Wikipedia, for health information is not surprising. The IMS Institute report spotlights a growing need for pharma to consider engaged patients who want information that is reliable, up to date and understandable. Wikipedia is right there, with almost 4.5 million articles in English and growing at the rate of 800 pages a day. While not perfect, it is the most comprehensive encyclopaedia in human history.

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