Why it’s in everyone’s interest to ensure the accuracy and integrity of medical content on Wikipedia.

Like it or not, Wikipedia has emerged as a leading source of medical content. Now the fifth most-trafficked website, Wikipedia is visited by 50% of U.S. physicians – and untold millions of consumers – for medical information. While many knowledgeable experts are wary of anything posted on Wikipedia, the fact remains that Wikipedia entries frequently appear at or near the top of results pages on Google and other search engines. Many savvy communications practitioners therefore view Wikipedia’s growing popularity as a business opportunity, and offer Wikipedia updates as a service to their clients. This practice has generated considerable controversy, as evidenced by the Wikipedia Foundation’s accusations of “paid advocacy editing and ‘sockpuppetry’” against a PR firm whose business model appears to focus primarily on editing Wikipedia pages.

“There is a thin line between a concern for accuracy and paid advocacy,” Steve Barrett recently observed in PR Week, adding, “a responsible and proactive PR industry that respects Wikipedia’s guidelines can be a benefit to the site.” I couldn’t agree more. When we offer suggested edits and updates to Wikipedia pages that mention our clients’ products and/or pertinent disease states, we perform a valuable service not only to our clients, but to anyone who visits those pages. As long as our suggested edits are accurate, balanced, and non-promotional, we advance the spread of useful information. Given the increasing popularity of Wikipedia as an information source, the alarming profusion of inaccurate and self-serving information on the site, and the dwindling number of Wikipedia editors, communications professionals have nothing to apologize for in working to improve Wikipedia content. That is why many agencies and solo practitioners offer Wikipedia updates to selected clients. When accurate information is disseminated through such a highly public medium, everyone benefits.

Happy holidays, everyone!