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Let’s ‘fess up: Most of us have logged on to Wikipedia to find information on an unexplained ailment — and, surprisingly, so have doctors.
A recent report published by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that Wikipedia is, believe it or not, the single leading source of medical information for doctors. In fact, 70 percent of MDs use it as an “information source in providing medical care,” according to a study published in the Journal of Internet Medical Research. Not so reassuring, considering that 90 percent of medical information on the community-edited website is inaccurate, says research published by the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
“We compared the 10 conditions responsible for the most medical costs. For example, hypertension, back pain, and depression, then cross-referenced them with updated, peer-reviewed studies,” study author Hilary Gerber, MD, tells Yahoo Health. “Most of the information on Wikipedia was inaccurate.” Here's one example, cited in a story published in Prevention: Wikipedia states that before doctors can make a diagnosis for hypertension, blood pressure readings from patients on three separate office visits were necessary, but national guidelines actually require only two readings.
According to Gerber, though plenty of accurate info resides on Wikipedia, “there just wasn’t enough that was right.” But even if your doctor does log on every once in a while, he or she still has a medical degree and will most likely use good judgment. “It’s good that Wikipedia cites most of its content, however, you don’t know who is writing the articles so, at best, the site should be used for general reference, not to confirm a symptom or diagnosis,” Jeremy Fine, MD, a Los Angeles-based medical concierge internist, tells Yahoo Health. He suggests patients join the site UpToDate, a subscription service that, while expensive, is the most trusted source for medical information online. There’s also accredited free websites WebMD and the Mayo Clinic, as well as government sites such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Of course, consult your doctor before making decisions that would impact your health.
But how much should you trust your MD? That depends on how well you’ve done your research. Here are three ways to feel more at ease with your provider.
Research your doctor's background: Visit the website for your state’s medical board (most provide free information) since it reveals any medical malpractice committed by a physician (keep in mind that you will only find settled, not pending lawsuits). If your state doesn’t post such info, you may still be able to obtain it if you call the medical board directly. Other options include searching for user reviews.
Get a second opinion: There’s nothing wrong with consulting another expert if you’re hesitant to take your doctor’s advice or if your course of treatment simply isn't working. And in light of recent research, which found that one in 20 people are misdiagnosed in outpatient clinics each year, it’s also downright smart. You won’t offend your doc and many even encourage patients to seek another opinion. First, ask your insurance company if it will cover a second office visit, then ask your doctor to send the new one a copy of your medical records. And make sure the two MDs are in communication before making any health decisions.
Check his credentials: Just because he’s an MD, doesn’t mean he is trained to meet your specific needs since anyone with a medical degree can practice any type of medicine. You can check out any doctor's certification on the American Board of Medical Specialties.
And remember, no matter who is treating you, the best authority on your health is, oftentimes, you.