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Don't diagnose yourself on Wikipedia

Diagnosing yourself on the internet could be harmful, doctors have said, as they warn that nine in ten medical entries on Wikipedia are inaccurate.

A number of articles on the hugely popular website were found to contain factual errors, largely because Wikipedia lets users create, delete and edit entries, which leads to more mistakes.

The study by doctors, found that errors on the site included an entry telling readers that to correctly diagnose high blood pressure, high readings must be obtained on three occasions. The researchers said this is not true and could lead to a dangerous delay in obtaining treatment. Lead author Robert Hasty of Campbell University in the US warned: "Researchers should not use [Wikipedia] as a primary resource because those articles do not go through the same peer-review processess as medical journals.

"The best resource when looking for a diagnosis is to speak with your physician, who can take into account your medical history and other factors to determine the best course of treatment."The researchers, who looked at entries on conditions such as diabetes, lung cancer and back pain, said: "Wikipedia's prominence has been made possible by its fundamental design as a collaborative database.

"However, it is this very feature that has raised concern in the medical community regarding the reliability of the information it contains.

Medical staff were also found to be turning to Wikipedia for guidance. The researchers wrote in the study, published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association: "Physicians and medical students who currently use Wikipedia as a medical reference should be discouraged from doing so because of the potential for errors."

Wikipedia, which launched in 2001, is the most popular online general reference site. At least 20,000 of the 31 million entries are health-related.

A spokesman said: "There are a number of initiatives in place to help the continuous improvement of Wikipedia articles, especially in relation to health and medicine.

For example, WikiProject Medicine brings together volunteer Wikipedia editors with a knowledge of the topic.

They work together to identify articles that need improvement, find credible sources and collaborate on articles to make them more accurate and more readable.

"However, it is crucial that anybody with concerns over their health contacts their GP as a first point of call.

Wikipedia, like any encyclopaedia, should not take the place of a qualified medical practitioner."

-Courtesy The Telegraph

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