Seeking Health Information Online: Does Wikipedia Matter?
- aFaculty of Medicine, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
- bDepartment of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University, School of Medicine, St Louis, MO, United States
- Correspondence: Michaël R. Laurent, Rooistraat 8, B-3012 Wilsele, Belgium; e-mail: < >
- Received 4 November 2008
- Accepted 1 April 2009
Objective To determine the significance of the English Wikipedia as a source of online health information.
Design The authors measured Wikipedia∗s ranking on general Internet search engines by entering keywords from MedlinePlus, NHS Direct Online, and the National Organization of Rare Diseases as queries into search engine optimization software. We assessed whether article quality influenced this ranking. The authors tested whether traffic to Wikipedia coincided with epidemiological trends and news of emerging health concerns, and how it compares to MedlinePlus.
Measurements Cumulative incidence and average position of Wikipedia® compared to other Web sites among the first 20 results on general Internet search engines (Google®, Google UK®, Yahoo®, and MSN®), and page view statistics for selected Wikipedia articles and MedlinePlus pages.
Results Wikipedia ranked among the first ten results in 71–85% of search engines and keywords tested. Wikipedia surpassed MedlinePlus and NHS Direct Online (except for queries from the latter on Google UK), and ranked higher with quality articles. Wikipedia ranked highest for rare diseases, although its incidence in several categories decreased. Page views increased parallel to the occurrence of 20 seasonal disorders and news of three emerging health concerns. Wikipedia articles were viewed more often than MedlinePlus Topic (p = 0.001) but for MedlinePlus Encyclopedia pages, the trend was not significant (p = 0.07–0.10).
Conclusions Based on its search engine ranking and page view statistics, the English Wikipedia is a prominent source of online health information compared to the other online health information providers studied.
This manuscript has not been submitted to any institutional review boards and has not received any funding or support.
The authors contribute as volunteers to the English Wikipedia (where both are administrators) and other Web sites of the Wikimedia Foundation. M. Laurent is a member of the WikiProject Medicine, and T. Vickers is Director of the Molecular and Cellular Biology WikiProject.