With or Without Health Care Reform, We’re Screwed

Wikipedia is “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

It’s also a resource many American doctors use to find medical information.

According to a survey of 1,900 physicians by Manhattan Research, a health care market research firm, nearly half of doctors going online for professional purposes reported using Wikipedia as a source of medical information. That number has doubled in the past year alone.

The threat is obvious. Can you imagine your doctor stepping out from the exam room, tapping away at his or her computer seeking the advice of Wikipedia? Research has documented the danger. A study from The Annals of Pharmacotherapy compared drug information from Wikipedia with the Medscape Drug Reference, a resource whose information is reviewed by pharmacists. Researchers found that Wikipedia omitted important information, including drug side effects. Another entry overlooked a commonly prescribed pain medication’s association with miscarriages.

Forget the debate over single payer health care.  Forget the talk about a public option.  Quality health care is a pipe dream if doctors are cheap, stupid, or lazy enough to rely on a nonauthoritative, easily vandalized resource like Wikipedia for health information.


11 Responses to “With or Without Health Care Reform, We’re Screwed”

  1. theblackcommenter on July 20th, 2009 3:36 pm

    Ok… so I had a friend who went to the doctor and the doctor did just that. Very scary.

  2. Jenn Q. Public on July 20th, 2009 3:43 pm

    Right in front of your friend? That’s terrifying! What ever happened to peer reviewed research?

  3. DodiaFae on July 20th, 2009 10:37 pm

    This is horrifying. Seriously. And it’s more proof that people should research their conditions and all possible treatments before accepting their physician’s advice.

    When I was pregnant with my first child, I was told that I was “nearly borderline” anemic (I’ve had a history of anemia nearly all my life) and was recommended to take 375 mg of an over-the-counter Iron suppliment. The RDA of Iron for a pregnant woman is 20 mg. Pregnant women already very commonly have issues with constipation, etc, and the number one cause of childhood poisoning in the home is from Iron overdose when a child gets into the medicine cabinet and swallows a bunch of vitamins. And they were recommending that a pregnant woman, growing a baby, take over 18 times the RDA of Iron for pregnant women.

    I did the research and , against my husband’s preferences, settled on 10 mg of a liquid herbal Iron supplement, one easily processed by the body. I also learned that taking calcium or fiber within 2 hours of Iron hinders the body’s ability to absorb and process Iron, that there are certain chemicals in oatmeal and black tea that do the same, and that the body needs Vitamin C in order to process Iron properly. None of these things were conveyed to me by the medical staff recommending such a high dose of Iron. They and my husband were concerned that I wasn’t taking their advice, but my Iron levels were normal within a few days, without all the horrible side-effects of taking too much Iron.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that people really need to take some responsibility for their own health. People rely far too heavily on the “knowledge” and the advice of doctors.

  4. Eclectic Radical on July 21st, 2009 1:52 am

    That is simply frightening, and wrong. There’s no excuse for doctors to do any such thing, not with the actual medical resources available to them. And they should seriously know better.

  5. Jenn Q. Public on July 21st, 2009 7:10 am

    DodiaFae, your story makes an important point: that even without Wikipedia in their repertoire, doctors can be misinformed.

    From the time I was 12 until I was 18, I couldn’t walk long distances or play sports due to what my PCP told me was a broken toe that hadn’t healed properly. When I finally sought out a specialist, it turned out I had a condition in which part of the bone in one toe had died and little fragments were chipping off and causing me pain when I walked. I had surgery a few days later to remove the detached pieces and in less than a month I could go hiking. That experience gave me a healthy skepticism about the infallibility of doctors and a lesson in the importance of really taking control of your medical care.

  6. DodiaFae on July 21st, 2009 7:55 am

    OMGs… your doctor should have been able to see that there were bone fragments in an x-ray or a c-scan! Did he even order one or did he just poke at your toe and say “it’s an old break”?

    With my situation… it’s not the first time I’ve had problems with my medical care. In my experience, most doctors don’t care to let people know exactly what the risks are with medications they’re recommending (tending to simply say “oh, side effects are mild” or something equally vague, then you read that you could have a stroke while on the medication) and they have no clue how supplements work. If you want to get really good information on how supplements work, you’ll have to do the research on your own or go talk to someone in “granola-head” store (or both).

  7. Jenn Q. Public on July 21st, 2009 8:29 am

    No X-rays or scans were done until I saw a specialist. The primary care doctor “knew” from “experience” what was wrong. When I finally saw a specialist, he used the X-ray to confirm his diagnosis, but he had little doubt because the symptoms were completely typical of the type of osteonecrosis I had, right down to the specific toe that was bothering me.

    Your comment about doing the research on your own jogged my memory about something I read in April. Obama told the NY Times:

    I know how to ask good questions of my doctor. But ultimately, he’s the guy with the medical degree. So, if he tells me, You know what, you’ve got such-and-such and you need to take such-and-such, I don’t go around arguing with him or go online to see if I can find a better opinion than his.

    And so, in that sense, there’s always going to be an asymmetry of information between patient and provider. And part of what I think government can do effectively is to be an honest broker in assessing and evaluating treatment options.

    Doctors already offer uneven and sometimes questionable treatment plans. The thought of government cooks crowding into the health care kitchen to “evaluate treatment options” is not a pretty one. I’s rather see more personal responsibility among health care consumers.

  8. theblackcommenter on July 21st, 2009 11:43 am

    Yup… the doctor did that right in front of her and then when my friend told her she also wanted a standard physical exam (blood tests, etc.) the doctor (also a female) simply said, “oh you don’t need one.”

    Needless to say she changed doctors immediately

  9. DodiaFae on July 21st, 2009 12:42 pm

    Nice. Our family doctor has told my husband that he doesn’t need another exam for 4 years. My husband is rather irritated by that. Meanwhile, I’d have to go see him every year if I didn’t already go to a group that specializes in female reproductive health for my pap.

  10. DodiaFae on July 21st, 2009 12:46 pm

    Jenn, that’s pretty scary…

    And you know, we already have a bunch of government cooks in the healthcare kitchen. (Oddly enough, when I read that real quick it popped into my head as “government kooks”. Freudian mindslip there.)

  11. Holly on August 5th, 2009 8:13 pm

    I find it shocking that we can go to a website or buy a book and find out just as much if not more information about our health problems as a certified doctor can. Reading this brought one question to my mind…Shouldn’t healthcare reform be about reigning in the high costs of a doctor or trained professionals?

    My mom had surgery a couple of months ago to remove a benign cist from her neck. It was an outpatient surgery that only took a couple of hours, but she had to stay in the recovery room for a while because she is diabetic, to ensure that she didn’t have a complication. When she received the itemized bill for that one day it costed her $2,ooo just to be in a recovery room for a few hours. They didn’t even check her blood sugar level before or after the surgery but charged her ins. company $2,000 just to be in a recovery room. They only came in once to taker her temp. and blood pressure and we had to ask for something to drink and eat for her. OUTRAGEOUS!!!

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