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Dr Wikipedia will see you now...

The Dr Wikipedia research has recently been hotly debated in the media. Damian Eade, director of Insight Research Group, discusses this new research, which reveals that 60 per cent of European doctors are accessing Wikipedia for professional use
several pills embossed with web terminology such as www,@, http etc

At Insight, we recently interviewed a cohort of 300 GPs across the UK and mainland Europe about how they are accessing the social web for both professional and personal purposes.The result has surprised many in the industry with 60 per cent of European doctors revealing they go to Wikipedia for professional use. So, should we be surprised by this?

Tech-savvy GPs
Our research also told us that 94 per cent of doctors regularly use the internet and 97 per cent of those often do so for 'work or professional purposes'. According to our survey, doctors are online for about nine hours each week for their work alone. It's also pretty clear that doctors are likely to be early adopters of technology and the more tech-savvy ones among us.

When it comes to dealing with patients, we found that half of doctors recommend specific websites for their patients to visit following a consultation. Of those who refer patients to the web, most do so to provide further background on a condition, additional support and more information regarding treatment and medication.

If doctors are recommending that patients visit specific websites, one could safely assume that these doctors would be aware of at least some of the different sorts of sites and resources out there for patients.

As of June 3, Wikipedia states it has 3.6 million articles with a total of just over 24 million pages and there have been over 465 million edits. It is undoubtedly a huge resource. Couple this with the consistently high Google rankings for Wikipedia entries and it is arguably hard to avoid coming across Wikipedia when searching for information online.

ePatient vs eDoctor
This research has further reinforced the view of many that we are now living in the era of the 'ePatient' - where the web has become a trusted tool for not only daily tasks, but also health-related matters. But what seems to worry people when it comes to the figure of 60 per cent of doctors using Wikipedia professionally is the concern that anyone can post and edit information.

This seemingly leads to concerns about the information being potentially inaccurate, misrepresentative or incomplete (particularly important when it comes to medical information and the requirement for fair balance).

One other area of confusion and worry around these statistics has been the (false) assumption that 'professional use' equated to using Wikipedia to make a diagnosis!  However, there is no evidence that Wikipedia was seen as an aid to diagnosis or a diagnostic tool of any sort.

It is important to remember that Wikipedia will not be the only resource (be it online or offline) that doctors are using. We know that there is a huge range of resources available to medical professionals, from professional and government websites and educational resources, through to pharmaceutical company sponsored websites with therapy area and product information.

This is of course in addition to their years of medical training and clinical experience, which arguably equips most doctors with the ability to review information sources with an acutely critical eye. It is doubtful that doctors will be relying solely on a site such as Wikipedia as their sole source of knowledge when it comes to medicine.

Are there ways in which, as an industry, we can add similar levels of value, whether real or perceived, to the way doctors are now practising medicine?

The value of web 2.0 in healthcare
What the findings do suggest is that a significant number of doctors are clearly getting some value or utility from Wikipedia as a resource, be it for their own use or for use with patients.

The question, and indeed the challenge, for pharmaceutical companies is: "What exactly is that utility and why are so many doctors across Europe using the site? Are there ways in which, as an industry, we can add similar levels of value, whether real or perceived, to the way doctors are now practising medicine?"

Undoubtedly the online world presents a whole host of opportunities, for doctors, patients and healthcare companies alike. Having put the question of what the online revolution might mean to healthcare to our eVillage online community of UK GPs, the response below encapsulates some of the excitement that is out there:

"I think the shift to online medical information is massive, and mainly positive. The ability to answer clinical questions in seconds with up to date information with the patient in front of you is brilliant. Surprisingly patients seem to appreciate their GP searching online during the consultation and seem to trust you more when the computer agrees with you (embarrassing if it doesn't – but "you can't possibly know as much as the computer"). As long as we don't allow the electronic protocol machine to suppress clinical judgement it can only be good."

It's important to consider this research in context. We're certainly not saying that doctors are using Wikipedia as the only source of information when diagnosing and managing patients. The research did not define exactly what 'professional use' meant, but anecdotally we know that doctors are already using tools like Wikipedia on top of their existing medical knowledge and reference points. And it could even mean that doctors are regularly contributing to Wikipedia entries and sharing their knowledge. This is certainly an area we would like to investigate further in the future.

It would appear that the ePatient is already with us. So the real question here is: Are we ready for the age of the eDoctor?

The Author
Damian Eade is director of global marketing research agency Insight Research Group

FAST FACTS: Dr Wikipedia research, by Insight Research Group

•    A third of GPs use the 'internet on the move'
•    A third of doctors own a smartphone
•    1 in 10 doctors already owns a tablet computer such as an iPad
•    Half of doctors recommend specific websites for their patients to visit following a consultation. Of these:
      -    87 per cent advise certain sites for further background or education on their condition
      -    70 per cent recommend websites for additional support and advice
      -    69 per cent suggest sites for more information regarding treatment and medication
•    75 per cent of doctors in the 51-60 age groups stated that they regularly used Wikipedia for professional use
•    Germany was the country with the highest number of GPs using Wikipedia (70 per cent)
•    18 per cent of European GPs use YouTube for professional use.



7th June 2011


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