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Wiki cancer info accurate, but not well written, Jefferson Medical College researchers report

Usually the first thing I do after a doctors appointment for myself or a member of my family is search the internet for information on specific conditions or concerns that have emerged.

More often than not, the top results of the search are on Wikipedia or another so-called wiki site. Data from the Pew Research Center suggest most Americans are like me and regularly use the internet to search for health information. But that raises a question: how good is the medical information on Wikipedia?

A study by researchers at Jefferson Medical College and elsewhere examined entries for ten cancer types on Wikipedia and compared them with peer-reviewed date on a popular cancer information database by the National Cancer Institute. Wiki sites allow users to add content themselves without professional editing or accuracy reviews, giving rise to concerns that the content could mislead people – a particularly worrisome possibility in the case of cancer patients seeking information on their illnesses.

The researchers sought to compare accuracy and readability as well as comprehensiveness of the entries. And while the NCI's Physician Data Query database was "more readable" than Wikipedia, there was "no difference in the depth of coverage" between the two sources. Moreover, both were found to contain mostly accurate information.

The researchers concluded, "Although the Wiki resource had similar accuracy and depth to the professionally edited database, it was significantly less readable. Further research is required to access how this influences patients' understanding and retention."

The study was scheduled to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meetings in Chicago June 4 - June 8.