Wikipedia:Biomedical information

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The English Wikipedia gives detailed advice on sources to support content about biomedical information in the Wikipedia:Identifying reliable sources (medicine) ("MEDRS") guideline. The goal of this page is to help Wikipedia editors differentiate biomedical content from other content, and to find sources that comply with MEDRS – that present accepted knowledge and mainstream positions on biomedical information.

What is biomedical information?[edit]

Biomedical information is information that relates to (or could reasonably be perceived as relating to) human health. Generally speaking, such information should be supported by a reputable biomedical source, such as review articles, higher-level medical textbooks, and professional reference works.

Attributes of a disease or condition
Symptoms, causes, prognoses; how a disease or condition progresses; how it is caught or transmitted; the molecular or cellular basis of a disease.
Attributes of a treatment or drug
How a treatment or drug works; whether a treatment or drug works, and to what degree; factors that affect whether a treatment or drugs works; dosage and timing information; side effects, benefits, and disadvantages.
Medical decisions
How a condition is identified, tested for, or diagnosed; how useful or effective those methods are; what the standard of care is, and whether a specific treatment, practice, or decision meets the standard of care; results or expected results of a medical decision; what constitutes a medical error and whether a medical error occurred.
Health effects
Whether human health is affected by a particular substance, practice, environmental factor, or other variable; what those effects are, how and when they occur or how likely they are, at what levels they occur, and to what degree; whether the effects (or the original variables) are safe, nutritious, toxic, beneficial, detrimental, etc.
Population data and epidemiology
Number of people who have a condition, mortality rates, transmission rates, rates of diagnosis (or misdiagnosis), etc.
Biomedical research
Information about clinical trials or other types of biomedical research that address the above entries or allow conclusions to be made about them. Other information about research, such as funding information, is not biomedical.

Information that is not typically biomedical may still require high-quality sourcing if the context may lead the reader to draw a conclusion about biomedical information, as can occur with content about human biochemistry or about medical research in animals. For example, if a disease is caused by low activity in a particular enzyme, then information about the enzyme's activity levels is treated like biomedical information. More generally, information which (if true) would affect or imply conclusions about biomedical information is typically itself treated like biomedical information.

What is not biomedical information?[edit]

Nearly all encyclopedia articles should contain some non-biomedical information. Here are some types of information that are not biomedical:

Commercial or business information
Which company invented it or owned it, whether it is currently for sale, how profitable it is, how many units were sold last year, marketing methods, any criticism of the company (such as disease mongering) that is not itself a biomedical claim, who the competitors are, almost anything about money, etc.
How much money this disease cost society last year; who pays for it and how much it (or its treatments) cost for the government, insurance companies, or individual people; other impacts on the economy; etc.
Statements about patients' beliefs regarding a disease or treatment, including religious or spiritual beliefs; religious beliefs about causes or cures for a disease (e.g., information about the evil spirits causing mental illness); why people choose or reject a particular treatment (whether that treatment is conventional, alternative, or spiritual); descriptions of the underlying beliefs of alternative medicines.
Pretty much anything involving names and dates, especially founders and inventors, but also obviously outdated medical practices, such as historical diagnostic tests (e.g., drinking the patient's urine to diagnose diabetes mellitus) and outdated treatments (e.g., herbal treatments for pneumonia). Statements that could still have medical relevance, such as about the effectiveness of historical treatments, are still biomedical, although historically significant primary sources are often MEDRS-compliant.
Society and culture
Social stigma against a condition or treatment, information about disease awareness campaigns or advocacy groups, public perception, public funding for research or treatment, etc.
Legal issues
What laws regulate related provider conduct, whether a disease needs to be reported to the government, what constitutes medical malpractice, who can or did sue whom, etc.
Notable cases
If the patient is still alive or is recently deceased, the Wikipedia:Biographies of living people rules apply.
Popular culture
Examples of people with the disease in literature, video, or songs
Etymology and definitions
The words that society, groups, or individuals use to indicate a condition, as well as whether they choose to think of a situation as a small part of a large condition or as a separate condition are not, themselves, biomedical information.
How a person learns to do a job, or what tests they have to take to do that job legally, is not biomedical information, even if the material they are learning is largely biomedical.
Regulatory status
Whether a substance is legal or illegal or available only by prescription has significant practical effects on the everyday practice of medicine, but it is medico-legal information, not biomedical information.
Medical ethics
Discussions about the ethics of a treatment, publication, set of rules or practices, or the handling of an event do not constitute biomedical information. Some issues in medical ethics (e.g., how to handle requests from a delusional patient) are frequently discussed in biomedical sources, but ethicists can also be used as sources.

Everyone should avoid using poor sources for any type of information. The best source is the one that is appropriate to the type of information:

  • For biographical information, use a source that is reliable for biographical information, such as a book about the person.
  • For commercial information, use a source that is reliable for commercial information, such as a newspaper or magazine that specializes in business reporting.
  • For legal information, use a source that is reliable for legal information, such as an article in a law review.

The context of non-biomedical information often needs to be presented with caution. For example, discussion of lawsuits which allege harm (such as have been undertaken against various vaccine manufacturers), if presented without context or without careful wording, may imply that a treatment is in fact harmful. Likewise, without context, a statement that a certain treatment is popular or widely used may imply some level of effectiveness. Additionally, MEDRS-quality sources are often higher-quality than non-MEDRS sources even for non-biomedical information, so when they are available it is often better to use them.

The best type of source[edit]

The best type of source depends upon the information that you're supporting.

The best source for each type of content
Subject Best type of source
Classification Look for textbooks or literature review articles.
Signs and symptoms or Characteristics Look for textbooks or literature review articles.
Causes Look for textbooks or literature reviews. Position statements will likely be available if the cause has been disputed in the media.
Mechanism Look for textbooks or literature review articles.
Diagnosis In some cases, high-quality evidence exists about the relevance and utility of individual tests. For general information, look for textbooks or literature review articles.
Prevention or Screening Expect positions from major organizations, and check for high-quality evidence about whether common methods work.
Treatment or Management Look for guidelines from major organizations about what ought to be done; look for systematic reviews to find out which of these recommendations have been proven to work. The government agencies NICE and AHRQ seek to bridge guidelines and evidence.
Outcomes or Prognosis Look for review articles for statistics, and textbooks for general information.
Epidemiology Look for textbooks or review articles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention often has useful information.
History Look for textbooks, literature review articles, history-of-medicine articles (for example, in PubMed), or books about the history of science and medicine.
Society and culture Look for books and magazine articles about sociology, business, economics, marketing, law, and other relevant aspects. Medical sources are not likely to present all significant POVs.
Research directions Look for opinion pieces, news articles, and advocacy statements by research-focused charitable organizations; hope for an organized recommendation by a major health body.
Special populations (geriatrics, pregnancy, pediatrics, etc.) As these are often overlooked areas, check every type of source.
Other animals Look for veterinary textbooks or review articles.

Special cases[edit]

Alternative medicine
Designation of a treatment or idea such as alternative, conventional, Western, or traditional are social labels rather than biomedical information, and such statements can therefore be sourced to news media and similar sources. For example, you could use a history book to support a statement that black salve was previously conventional medicine and is now considered alternative medicine. Statements about efficacy – for example, that black salve is better than placebo for treating superficial non-melanoma skin cancers, but that it has one-tenth the efficacy and ten times the side effects of modern conventional treatment – is a statement about biomedical information.
Veterinary medicine
Generally, editors do not enforce a requirement for especially high-quality sources for non-human medicine. However, all the principles can be voluntarily applied to veterinary medicine.
Actual use
Whether people do something, or whether healthcare providers prescribe something, could be biomedical information or not, depending on how you phrase it.
Recreational drug use
This may be biomedical (e.g., statistics about prevalence) or not (e.g., whether the substance can be bought legally).
Current affairs
Certain events may trigger claims about illnesses or side effects. For example, after 9/11 those exposed to the dust complained about breathlessness and coughing. High-quality news sources can be used for these anecdotal reports, so long as no claims are made about causes or diagnoses. "Five hundred people were admitted to hospital after the attack complaining of breathlessness" can be sourced to a newspaper, but "Exposure to the dust caused interstitial lung disease" needs a MEDRS-compliant source.

What to do if you want a more appropriate source[edit]

Biomedical information not sourced to a WP:MEDRS may be removed in accord with WP:BURDEN which states "Any material lacking a reliable source directly supporting it may be removed and should not be restored without an inline citation to a reliable source". If WP:MEDRS can be found to support the information, and it is relevant and encyclopedic, then ideally provide a better source yourself. If you cannot find an appropriate source but the material seems accurate, consider adding a {{Medical citation needed}} tag.