A comparison of cancer information on Wikipedia and the patient version of information on the NCI’s Physician Data Query (PDQ) “found that although Wikipedia had similar accuracy and depth to the PDQ, the written style was more complex and thus might be less understandable to patients.” According to the comparative study, which was published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, neither website scored well in tackling controversial issues, but Wikipedia did better in integrating new data. While Wikipedia articles appeared to be more up-to-date, the study authors acknowledged that this may reflect PDQ’s policy of not discussing published studies until pharmaceutical agents have been approved by the FDA.
Using appraisal forms and readability scores, medically trained personnel evaluated Wikipedia and PDQ articles on five of the most common cancers—lung, breast, prostate, colon, and melanoma—and five of the least common—anal, vulvar, small intestine, testicular, and osteosarcoma. Inaccuracies were rare, less than 2%, on both websites.
The authors acknowledge that the implications of the differences in readability are unknown. “Several studies have concluded that those patients who look for information online have above-average educations. However, many patients with cancer have impaired cognitive function,” the authors wrote. They concluded that further research to determine how Internet information is understood and absorbed will help to design new Web-based information systems. ■