JAPhA study shows incomplete and inaccurate patient drug information on Wikipedia

Research compares accuracy and reading level of Wikipedia information with that contained in product inserts

As global use of the internet has increased, its use for obtaining health information has also increased.  It is estimated that over a third of U.S. adults have used the internet to search for drug information in the last year, with Wikipedia being the most commonly cited health care website. To determine the completeness, accuracy, and reading level of Wikipedia patient drug information, researchers at the Rutgers University Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy in Piscataway, NJ, evaluated information for the top 33 medications on the Institute for Healthcare Informatics’ Top 200 Drugs for 2012, after excluding brand and generic duplicates and drugs not required to have medication guides.

In the study, published online in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, the researchers used a scoring system to compare the patient drug information presented on the Wikipedia page with the 7 domains of the corresponding medication guide. Each domain was assigned a score of 0 to 3, with 0 indicating inaccurate or not complete and 3 indicating accurate or complete, and the values added for a maximum composite score of 42 for each medication. The results indicated a mean composite score of 14.73 for the 33 medications evaluated, with the information for meloxicam having the highest composite score (30) and nasonex the lowest (with a score of 6). Scores were highest for the “What is the drug” domain and lowest for the “storage” and “how to take” domains. The researchers also found that the Wikipedia entries were written at a much higher reading level compared with the medication guides and well above the average consumer reading level, which could contribute to patient misunderstanding of medication information.

The study authors conclude that as the public use of Wikipedia increases, the need for health care professionals and the pharmaceutical industry to actively educate and provide reliable resources to patients remains important. Patients should be encouraged to consult their health care providers when interpreting drug information.