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Why Pharma Needs to Pay Attention to Wikipedia

Posted by | 11:25am on Thursday, June 28, 2012

about 2 in 5 US physicians use Wikipedia as a source of information for their practice at least weekly 

In 2009, I wrote a post for Ellen Hoenig Carlson’s blog, The Back of the Book, on the importance of Wikipedia. Bertalan Meskó, MD, recently highlighted this topic in “An Open Letter to Pharma: Please Employ a Wikipedian,” so I thought I’d revisit my original points.

Physicians and consumers use Wikipedia
The 2012 Taking the Pulse® US study from Manhattan Research found that about 2 in 5 US physicians use Wikipedia as a source of information for their practice at least weekly. This is consistent with their 2009 survey that reported that nearly 50% of US physicians going online for professional purposes are visiting Wikipedia for medical and health information. A small UK study reported that Wikipedia was used by 70% of junior physicians.

Fifty percent of US consumers search for health information on Wikipedia according to Prevention Magazine’s 2011 Pharmaceutical Direct to Consumer Advertising Study. In Europe, almost three quarters of consumers use Wikipedia for health and medical information per Manhattan Research’s Cybercitizen Health® Europe 2011.

Wikipedia dominates search engine results
Wikipedia appears in the top 10 results for more than 70% of medical queries in 4 different search engines, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association in July 2009. There is no sign of this changing. Both patients and healthcare professionals will continue to be driven to Wikipedia due to its dominance over the search engine results. Whether you agree or disagree with the accuracy of Wikipedia, you have to admit it plays a significant role in the world of health information.

Ensure that Wikipedia provides accurate pharmaceutical information
First, review all of the company, product and condition-specific treatment Wikipedia pages across various countries. If there are errors or factual information is missing, there are ways to ethically update Wikipedia. Companies may want to have one person “officially” responsible for monitoring the site on behalf of the organization; this person should declare their intentions on Wikipedia. Be sure to follow Wikipedia’s guidelines regarding transparency, and add information that is neutral and useful. This is what Dr. Meskó advocates as well. Develop a plan for ongoing monitoring and maintenance.

Create a Wikipedia policy
Since anyone with an Internet connection can edit Wikipedia, companies should create a policy about Wikipedia and other wikis. Both Abbott and Astra Zeneca received negative publicity when employees used company computers to delete negative information from Wikipedia articles. Employees should be educated about Wikipedia and the appropriate process if they see inaccurate information.

Since Wikipedia continues to be used as a significant resource for health knowledge by both patients and healthcare providers, pharma and biotech companies should develop a plan to address the site. What do you think?

(Image courtesy of mikeedesign on Flickr).

About Eileen O'Brien

Eileen has more than 16 years of digital healthcare marketing experience. She is an opinion leader on social media and biopharma, and has been invited to speak at industry conferences and quoted in publications.

View other posts from Eileen

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