PharmExec Blog

Wikipedia is Also a Pharma Marketing Issue

Wikipedia is also a pharma marketing issue
Writing just yesterday on this blog, Beth Bengtson, principal at healthcare marketing and communications company Hale Advisors, highlighted the problem posed for public health by Wikipedia.
In her post, Beth linked back to a report on Manhattan Research’s 2009 ‘Taking the Pulse’ study that showed medical articles on Wikipedia receiving about 150 million page views per month. I’m betting it’s way more than that in 2013.
In Health Online 2013, the Pew Research Center said one third of Americans have turned to the Internet to diagnose a medical condition at some time; almost three quarters had looked for health information online in the previous 12 months.
A July 2013 study from New York based healthcare marketing company Makovsky Health and research firm Kelton shows that more than 20 percent of these searches will end up on Wikipedia – that’s a lot of people going to the online encyclopaedia for help with their health.
Whether it’s 150 million or 250 million pages views, the concern is that the general public is accessing inaccurate and potentially dangerous health information online. A recent paper by Dr Thomas Fergus, of Baylor University in Waco, Texas concluded that ‘Cyberchondria’ – compulsively searching the Internet for information about particular real or imagined symptoms of illness – could be “exacerbated by a glut of sometimes dubious material available at the click of a mouse.”
While acknowledging that Drug manufacturers must avoid conflict of interest, Beth calls on the industry to help fix the inaccuracies and incomplete information on Wikipedia. “Stop sticking our head in the sand and take accountability to fix this very concerning public health issue,” she wrote.
Work to improve publicly accessible health information on Wikipedia is underway.  WikiProject Medicine describes itself as a “an area for focused collaboration among Wikipedians”, where anyone who wants to help improve the quality of medical and health content on Wikipedia can raise issues and collaborate on fixing them. Even Pharma people.
The New York Times recently reported on another project to raise the quality of healthcare articles in Wikipedia. Medical students at the University of California, San Francisco, will be able to get course credit for editing articles.
Good news.
The bad news is that this will all take time; meanwhile the public is still accessing unverified information. Potentially more worrying, so are their doctors. Manhattan Research’s ‘Taking the Pulse’ data showed almost half of practicing US physicians surveyed use Wikipedia as a source of medical information; a 2011 survey of hundreds of doctors across Europe put the number using Wikipedia as high as 60 percent.
I come away from those numbers wondering, “Why are doctors using Wikipedia?”
I get why patients use it. As the world’s sixth largest website, people are familiar with it. And it’s omnipresent in the search results – type almost anything into Google and a Wikipedia article is almost guaranteed to be in the first few results.
Other than sites like WebMD (which claims 55% of health searches according to Makovsky and Kenon), the ordinary patient in the street doesn’t really have anywhere else to go. Doctors, on the other hand, should have more information than they know what do with.
Sure they’re human, they Google stuff just like the rest of us. But is the fact that HCPs are turning to the web first not a clue to Pharma companies that they need to make their information more accessible online.
It’s unlikely that any company, even a Big Pharma company, will ever elbow Wikipedia of the search-engines top spots, but a regular stream or relevant, specific content has a chance to feature alongside it. I’m not sure how it sits today, but if you typed ‘What is a magazine’ into Google earlier this year, a guest post on my Flipping Pages blog sat right under Wikipedia’s answer to that enduring media question.
While I was writing this, I saw a tweet from Lee Odden, CEO of Minneapolis-based agency TopRank Online Marketing. He wrote, “Google is an answers machine. Give Google and customers what they want with content that answers questions.”
In a previous post on this blog, Catch on to content marketing, I wrote that Pharma’s content-marketing opportunity is to make sure that when a doctor or a patient goes searching for health information that the right content is there waiting for them. In the same post I quoted Dr Candice O’Sullivan of Australia’s Wellmark agency describing Pharma as “an industry well used to the rigours of consistently producing high-quality content.”
And yet, millions of patients and doctors still go to Wikipedia every month for the answers to their questions. I think that’s what’s known on the internet as a #Fail.

Writing last week on this blog, Beth Bengtson, principal at healthcare marketing and communications company Hale Advisors, highlighted the problem posed for public health by Wikipedia.

Peter Houston

Peter Houston

In her post, Beth linked back to a report on Manhattan Research’s 2009 ‘Taking the Pulse’ study that showed medical articles on Wikipedia receiving about 150 million page views per month. I’m betting it’s way more than that in 2013.

In Health Online 2013, the Pew Research Center said one third of Americans have turned to the Internet to diagnose a medical condition at some time; almost three quarters had looked for health information online in the previous 12 months.

A July 2013 study from New York based healthcare marketing company Makovsky Health and research firm Kelton shows that more than 20 percent of these searches will end up on Wikipedia — that’s a lot of people going to the online encyclopaedia for help with their health.

Whether it’s 150 million or 250 million pages views, the concern is that the general public is accessing inaccurate and potentially dangerous health information online. A recent paper by Dr Thomas Fergus, of Baylor University in Waco, Texas concluded that ‘Cyberchondria’ – compulsively searching the Internet for information about particular real or imagined symptoms of illness – could be “exacerbated by a glut of sometimes dubious material available at the click of a mouse.”

While acknowledging that drug manufacturers must avoid conflict of interest, Beth calls on the industry to help fix the inaccuracies and incomplete information on Wikipedia. “Stop sticking our head in the sand and take accountability to fix this very concerning public health issue,” she wrote.

Work to improve publicly accessible health information on Wikipedia is underway.  WikiProject Medicine describes itself as a “an area for focused collaboration among Wikipedians”, where anyone who wants to help improve the quality of medical and health content on Wikipedia can raise issues and collaborate on fixing them. Even pharma people.

The New York Times recently reported on another project to raise the quality of healthcare articles in Wikipedia. Medical students at the University of California, San Francisco, will be able to get course credit for editing articles.

Good news.

The bad news is that this will all take time; meanwhile the public is still accessing unverified information. Potentially more worrying, so are their doctors. Manhattan Research’s ‘Taking the Pulse’ data showed almost half of practicing US physicians surveyed use Wikipedia as a source of medical information; a 2011 survey of hundreds of doctors across Europe put the number using Wikipedia as high as 60 percent.

I come away from those numbers wondering, “Why are doctors using Wikipedia?”

I get why patients use it. As the world’s sixth largest website, people are familiar with it. And it’s omnipresent in the search results — type almost anything into Google and a Wikipedia article is almost guaranteed to be in the first few results.

Other than sites like WebMD (which claims 55% of health searches according to Makovsky and Kenon), the ordinary patient in the street doesn’t really have anywhere else to go. Doctors, on the other hand, should have more information than they know what do with.

Sure they’re human, they Google stuff just like the rest of us. But is the fact that HCPs are turning to the web first not a clue to Pharma companies that they need to make their information more accessible online.

It’s unlikely that any company, even a Big Pharma company, will ever elbow Wikipedia off the search-engines top spots, but a regular stream or relevant, specific content has a chance to feature alongside it. I’m not sure how it sits today, but if you typed ‘What is a magazine’ into Google earlier this year, a guest post on my Flipping Pages blog sat right under Wikipedia’s answer to that enduring media question.

While I was writing this, I saw a tweet from Lee Odden, CEO of Minneapolis-based agency TopRank Online Marketing. He wrote, “Google is an answers machine. Give Google and customers what they want with content that answers questions.”

In a previous post on this blog, Catch on to content marketing, I wrote that Pharma’s content-marketing opportunity is to make sure that when a doctor or a patient goes searching for health information that the right content is there waiting for them. In the same post I quoted Dr Candice O’Sullivan of Australia’s Wellmark agency describing Pharma as “an industry well used to the rigours of consistently producing high-quality content.”

And yet, millions of patients and doctors still go to Wikipedia every month for the answers to their questions. I think that’s what’s known on the internet as a #Fail.

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11 Comments

  1. Posted October 15, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Nice post, Peter

    We have to keep plugging away at this issue for a number of reasons, but the principal one resides in your last paragraph.

    Try finding a search term on a molecule where Wikipedia isn’t in the top three results (and it’s usually the first).

    Regardless of what one thinks of the quality of Wikipedia entries (which are usually at least moderate-to-good, and improving all the time), the fact is that every community of interest in the health conversation uses Wikipedia all the time due to the simple fact that *it’s where search leads us*.

    It has been suggested (http://stwem.com/2012/06/13/an-open-letter-to-pharma-please-employ-a-wikipedian-2/) that every pharma company should employ a Wikipedian to ensure that the information contained in *all* Wikimedia content repositories (not just Wikipedia) is fair, accurate, and compliant.

    The task is to ‘take promotion out, and put fair balanced, comprehensive information in’. To suggest that to do so could put a company in breach is ludicrous on this basis.

    I go further than this to suggest that each pharma Wikipedian should curate the information Wikipedia contains about *every drug it (or its subsidiaries and acquisitions) has ever brought to market*, not because it is obliged to do so, but because it foregrounds the sum total of the contribution it has made to human health, usually for good, but also occasionally for bad.

    Why do this?

    Not to self-praise, nor as a mea culpa, raking over the past, but rather: to indirectly remind Wikipedia users (i.e. every with access to the Internet) of a given company’s work. Building trust in its activities, manifesting its subject authority on the drugs it has brought to market, creating awareness, diminishing prejudice, and providing evidence of its desire to align the success of its business with its desire to do social good.

  2. Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks for an interesting post Peter.

    I agree with Andrew, the last paragraph is key. I don’t think anyone would disagree with your statement that ‘Pharma’s content-marketing opportunity is to make sure that when a doctor or a patient goes searching for health information that the right content is there waiting for them.’ But in order to do that, we need to really understand two things – how they are searching and what is the right content?

    In the case of doctors, research into online behaviour and preference of HCPs (conducted with 174 doctors in Europe in 2011 – http://www.epghealthmedia.com/industry-reports/online-behaviour.cfm ) indicated that doctors spend too much time ‘searching’ versus actually ‘engaging’ with content online, most initiate their search with physician websites but 53% ‘always’ or ‘often’ initiate their online search via search engines (with pharma websites being the least likely place to start). 50% frequently settled for the information they could find most quickly and most access medical information on Wikipedia, despite only 31% considering Wikipedia to be a valuable source of information…

    So doctors are compromised in their behaviour and preferences and pharma must be missing an opportunity to better support them and gain trust. This involves investing in what the audience needs, where they go looking for it (not blindly pushing own agendas of what and where). Perhaps it should be considered an obligation on the part of pharma to ensure that Wikipedia contains the most up-to-date and relevant information that they have available?

  3. Posted October 17, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Important subject, yes, reminding me of the years I spent with the Internet Healthcare Coalition before we disbanded.
    –To my knowledge, information about medicines on Wikipedia has not been demonstrated to be inaccurate. (There is a recent published article criticizing “readability” level, but I dare say, that package inserts may well not pass the test either) We can add that research attempts to demonstrate medical harm from use of Internet-based information have also not succeeded, despite the fact that evaluation of websites in any category may show that information is often incomplete and not up to date. Why is there no demonstration of harm? For one, users don’t leap to action decisions after reading one article. To use the old term, they do surf and ask around and not just on the Web.
    –If pharma, on the Continent, is not involved in Wikipedia, this stems in large part from concern about regulatory constraints. In France, for example, most pharma co’s believe that they are not allowed to intervene in Wikipedia.
    -And finally, in the country where I reside, there is in point of fact no re-certification of healthcare professionals. Who will know whether the one I see is up to date in his or her knowledge of medicines and medicine?

  4. Posted October 17, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    This is an interesting topic and I tend to agree that there is need of improvement when it comes to medical information on the net, especially on Wikipedia…, but just make a trial and type a medical topic, e.g. “Diabetes” in your web and see what is coming up….Many informative sites referring to this one subject, now you have to select and read some to make up your mind.
    If, a medical doctor, selects only one place of information on the net, e.g .only Wikipedia, I would not like to be treated by such a physician!
    Furthermore please not that the Manhattan Research’s ‘Taking the Pulse’ data is based on 1900 randomly selected physicians in the US. According to government statistics there are about 955.000 medical doctors registered and out of it about 209.000 are primary care physicians (Year 2010).
    Claiming 50 % of medical doctors in the US, using Wikipedia as their primary source of information on the basis of less than 1 % of primary care physicians or worse 0.2% of total medical doctors in the USA appears to be one of the media examples I do not like to be associated with!

  5. Peter Houston
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks Andrew,

    The fear of breaching unwritten-rules rules is used as a block for action so often online. I love the idea of Pharma Wikipedian’s in this context – an identified group working from a position of enlightened self interest to a centralised code of conduct.

  6. Peter Houston
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Hi Michelle and thanks,

    Agree that understanding of the how, where and what of searching is still developing, but isn’t this where the industry has a duty to figure it out and help ‘educate’ doctors to alternative/complimentary information sources? I do agree that if Wikipedia is going to continue to dominate search, then someone (Wikipedia, Doctors, Pharma, Regulators) has to take on a duty of care for the accuracy of information.

    Peter

  7. Peter Houston
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Hi Denise,

    If the industry thinks they will be breaking some kind of rules by getting involved in Wikipedia, then this type of discussion needs to be taking place more.

    Peter

  8. Peter Houston
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment Falk,

    Research is research, a sample size of .2% is not exhaustive, but similar research in Europe shows the same sort of percentages, so I’m guessing it’s not inaccurate to say that a significant number of physicians use Wikipedia.

    Peter

  9. Anthony Cole
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Hi Peter. I’m a volunteer editor and writer of, among other things, drug content on Wikipedia and I am a member of WikiProject Medicine. We are very conscious of our responsibility at or near the top of every search-engine result and aware of the startling readership figures and the disturbing cross-section of people using us. And we are very aware of the many shortcomings in our offering.

    We are also dismayed by the failure of scholarly societies and professional bodies to take responsibility for the Wikipedia articles in their fields. Everybody knows that (almost) anybody can edit Wikipedia provided they do so within our guidelines and yet, with a few exceptions, most of what you see is written by amateurs.

    I and other Wikipedia medical editors would very much like to discuss with your industry the best way to ensure the reliability of our pharmaceutical content while safeguarding the independence and neutrality of the encyclopedia. Who should we be talking to? I’ll watch this page if you’d like to continue here; feel free to email me; or you can click “New section” at the top of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Anthonyhcole, type in the box and click “save” when you’re done. (It’s that easy to edit a Wikipedia page.)

  10. Posted October 21, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    To a certain extent this is an SEO issue too. Wikepedia has a generic high ranking on Google et. al. Pharma may wish to imrove Wikipedia content but it may also wish to write content that uses SEO to rank higher on native search. It is also a paid search (Adwords) opportunity. The fact that doctors are usinig Wikipedia to the extent that they are according to this post makes SEO and Wikipedia edits more worthy of budget–however, you have to be careful how you edit Wikipedia if you come at it from anything but an academic perspective and there is a PR downside if not handled properly.

  11. Bus
    Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if, with this optimizing of medical data and properties of prescription drugs, Wikipedia isn’t going more or less commercial. Pharmaceutical industries will probably be pleased with this development, free of charge.

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