Seeking health information online: does Wikipedia matter?

Laurent MR and Vickers TJ from the Faculty of Medicine, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium published an article about Wikipedia and its health information database.

OBJECTIVE To determine the significance of the English Wikipedia as a source of online health information.

DESIGN We 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.

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.

CONCLUSION 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.

Believe me, I’m one of the biggest fans of Wikipedia. I’ve been working on medical articles in Wikipedia since 2004!

We are working hard and trying to put proper references into the medical entries there, though it will still take a lot of time to create a really comprehensive and medically reliable encyclopaedia.

But do the authors think pageviews and search engine rankings can indicate the real quality of a medical article? Is that a joke?

If I can manage to make my article climb up on search engine result pages by using SEO tricks and direct people to my site, it means my content is medically appropriate?

I tell you the answer, it is not!

As Wikipedians say, Wikipedia is a fantastic resource, but should never be the last one you finish your research with…

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Further reading:

UPDATE: Michael Laurent, one of the authors of the article, shared the full text with me and it turned out it’s quite easy to misinterpret the core points of the publication by reading only the abstract. I made that mistake myself as well. Here is what Michael had to say:

Wikipedia should not be ignored when it comes to online health information. It ranks high on Google and now we’ve determined exactly how high. That’s something that you read in almost any article on Wikipedia, but nobody had proven so far.