Research:WikiHealth: A scoping review of Wikipedia in academic & health literature

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This page documents a completed research project.

This project is a first step in my research towards finding out how Wikipedia is included in the consumption of health information for decision-making. A scoping review of the academic health literature and the library and information sciences literature will be conducted to identify and analyze themes within this body of literature.

This scoping reviews asks:

1.    What publication trends exist, if any, among health-related articles about Wikipedia? and,

2.    What does the existing body of literature say about Wikipedia as an online health information resource?


In an effort to retrieve all records within the scope of health and medicine, I generated a broad search strategy:

A title and abstract only keyword search for “Wikipedia” in each of the following databases:

  • OVID Medline
  • OVID Embase
  • Wilson Web
  • AMED

A single keyword search for “Wikipedia” in Web of Science followed by manual search to retrieve any content related to a health topic.

All records were exported to a free citation manager (Zotero) and imported into systematic review (SR) software (DistillerSR). Using the SR software, database records were screened first by title and abstract. A second round of review screened the full-text of all records.

Records were excluded if:

  • Wikipedia is not a major or exclusive focus of the article
  • Wikipedia is not discussed within the context of a health or medical topic
  • The article is not available in English (no funds are provided to support translation for this review)
  • The article is a letter, commentary, editorial, or popular media article

In some cases, a conference proceeding record and a published article record were retrieved for the same report. In these instances, I excluded the conference proceeding and retained the full-text article. Some articles did discuss Wikipedia’s health or medical content but were excluded because Wikipedia was not a major focus of the paper and the treatment of Wikipedia's health content was insufficient to merit inclusion.


May 2019

  • Construct and execute literature search strategy

June 2019

  • Title/Abstract Screen
  • Full-text Screen
  • Compose annotated bibliography of included studies

July 2019

  • Identify themes within the literature
  • Compose thematic analysis

August 2019

  • Compose first draft of Scoping Review manuscript
  • Apply for grant to cover Open Access Author Processing Charges

September-October 2019

  • Submit for publication to Open Access journal

Policy, Ethics and Human Subjects Research[edit]

This project will not disrupt the work of Wikipedians. No human subjects are involved in this study and therefore ethics review is not required.


2,213 unique results were retrieved. 2,124 were excluded based on the criteria listed in Methods, leaving 89 articles and conference proceedings to be reviewed.

Two publication trends emerged:

  1. Approximately 40% of articles in this review were published using the open access publishing model. This is 143% greater than the average amount of open access publications in all published literature, based on findings from a study of CrossRef - a service that catalogues all published articles with a DOI (digital object identifier).

Four categories that emerged through thematic analysis:

  1. 11% of the literature: Articles with a general focus on situating Wikipedia as a health information resource with no specific context as a major focus (e.g for consumers, professionals, or students);
  2. 53% of the literature: Assessments of Wikipedia’s quality;
  3. 18% of the literature: Wikipedia’s utility for education, and;
  4. 18% of the literature: Wikipedia’s utility for research.

The complete full-text of the results of this review will be added to this page once it has been accepted for publication in an open access journal.

Published Review (PLOS ONE)[edit]

The final published article became available via PLOS ONE on February 18, 2020. DOI:


This list includes all articles cited in the scoping review in the order they appear in the full-text article:

  1. wikiprojectmed. Our Mission [Internet]. Wiki Project Med Foundation. 2013 [cited 2019 Sep 19]. Available from:
  2. Wiki Project Med - Meta [Internet]. [cited 2019 Sep 25]. Available from:
  3. Heilman JM, West AG. Wikipedia and Medicine: Quantifying Readership, Editors, and the Significance of Natural Language. J Med Internet Res. 2015;17(3):e62.
  4. Hodson R. Wikipedians reach out to academics. Nat News [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jul 29]; Available from:
  5. Giles J. Internet encyclopaedias go head to head [Internet]. Nature. 2005 [cited 2019 Jul 29]. Available from:
  6. Faric N, Potts HWW. Motivations for contributing to health-related articles on Wikipedia: an interview study. J Med Internet Res. 2014;16(12):e260.
  7. Alexa - Wikipedia Competitive Analysis, Marketing Mix and Traffic [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jul 29]. Available from:
  8. Wikimedia Statistics - English Wikipedia - Unique devices [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jul 29]. Available from:|line|1-year|~total|monthly
  9. Calabrese C, Anderton BN, Barnett GA. Online Representations of “Genome Editing” Uncover Opportunities for Encouraging Engagement: A Semantic Network Analysis. Sci Commun. 2019 Apr;41(2):222–42.
  10. Okoli, C, Mehdi M, Mesgari, M, Nielson, FA, Lanamäki, A. Wikipedia in the eyes of its beholders: A systematic review of scholarly research on Wikipedia readers and readership. J Assoc Inf Sci Technol. 2014 Dec;(12):2381.
  11. Mesgari M, Okoli C, Mehdi M, Nielsen FÅ, Lanamäki A. “The sum of all human knowledge”: A systematic review of scholarly research on the content of Wikipedia. J Assoc Inf Sci Technol. 2015 Feb;66(2):219–45.
  12. Piwowar H, Priem J, Larivière V, Alperin JP, Matthias L, Norlander B, et al. The state of OA: a large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles. PeerJ [Internet]. 2018 Feb 13 [cited 2019 Jul 5];6. Available from:
  13. Heilman JM, Kemmann E, Bonert M, Chatterjee A, Ragar B, Beards GM, et al. Wikipedia: a key tool for global public health promotion. J Med Internet Res. 2011;13(1):e14.
  14. Shafee T, Masukume G, Kipersztok L, Das D, Haggstrom M, Heilman J. Evolution of Wikipedia’s medical content: past, present and future. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2017;71(11):1122–9.
  15. James R. WikiProject Medicine: Creating Credibility in Consumer Health. J Hosp Librariansh. 2016 Oct;16(4):344–51.
  16. Law MR, Mintzes B, Morgan SG. The Sources and Popularity of Online Drug Information: An Analysis of Top Search Engine Results and Web Page Views. Ann Pharmacother. 2011 Mar;45(3):350–6.
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  23. Skancke KH, Svendsen K. Wikipedia and medicines: who edits medicine articles on the English Wikipedia? Int J Clin Pharm. 2017 Feb;39(1):254.
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  27. Clauson KA, Polen HH, Boulos MNK, Dzenowagis JH. Scope, completeness, and accuracy of drug information in Wikipedia. Ann Pharmacother. 2008;42(12):1814–21.
  28. Hunter JA, Lee T, Persaud N. A comparison of the content and primary literature support for online medication information provided by Lexicomp and Wikipedia. J Med Libr Assoc. 2018 Jul;106(3):352–60.
  29. Koppen L, Phillips J, Papageorgiou R. Analysis of reference sources used in drug-related Wikipedia articles. J Med Libr Assoc. 2015 Jul;103(3):140–4.
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  33. Kim JY, Gudewicz TM, Dighe AS, Gilbertson JR. The pathology informatics curriculum wiki: Harnessing the power of user-generated content. J Pathol Inform. 2010;1(101528849).
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  36. Ayes KB, Bardsley CH. Wikipedia Information for Toxicologic Emergencies: How Reliable Is It? Clin Toxicol. 2010 Jul;48(6):635.
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  38. Messner M, DiStaso MW, Yan Jin, Meganck S, Sherman S, Norton S. Influencing public opinion from corn syrup to obesity: A longitudinal analysis of the references for nutritional entries on Wikipedia. First Monday. 2014 Nov;19(11):4–4.
  39. Sanz-Valero J, Cabrera-Hernandez L, Wanden-Berghe C, Culebras-Fernandez, JM. The popularization of food and nutritional sciences: Wikipedia versus a general encyclopedia. Clin Nutr. 2013;32(SUPPL. 1):S192.
  40. Sanz-Valero J, Wanden-Berghe C, Guardiola-Wanden-Berghe R. Nutrition and metabolism in wikipedia: Presence and adequacy of English and Spanish terminology. Clin Nutr Suppl. 2012;7(1):198–9.
  41. Koo M. Complementary and Alternative Medicine on Wikipedia: Opportunities for Improvement. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;105186.
  42. Biggs TC, Jayakody N, Best K, King EV. Quality of online otolaryngology health information. J Laryngol Otol. 2018 Jun;132(6):560–3.
  43. Simpson A, Le M, Malicka AN. The Accuracy and Readability of Wikipedia Articles on Hearing Loss. J Consum Health Internet. 2018 Oct;22(4):323–36.
  44. Reavley NJ, Mackinnon AJ, Morgan AJ, Alvarez-Jimenez M, Hetrick SE, Killackey E, et al. Quality of information sources about mental disorders: a comparison of Wikipedia with centrally controlled web and printed sources. Psychol Med. 2012 Aug;42(8):1753–62.
  45. Stankus T, Spiegel SE. Wikipedia, Scholarpedia, and References to Journals in the Brain and Behavioral Sciences: A Comparison of Cited Sources and Recommended Readings in Matching Free Online Encyclopedia Entries. Sci Technol Libr. 2010 Jul;29(3):258–65.
  46. Martin-Carreras T, Kahn CEJ. Integrating Wikipedia Articles and Images into an Information Resource for Radiology Patients. J Digit Imaging. 2019;32(3):349–53.
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  50. Azzam A, Bresler D, Leon A, Maggio L, Whitaker E., Heilman J., et al. Why Medical Schools Should Embrace Wikipedia: Final-Year Medical Student Contributions to Wikipedia Articles for Academic Credit at One School. Acad Med J Assoc Am Med Coll. 2017;92(2):194–200.
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  52. Lieberthal RD, Leon J. Engaging Health Professionals in Health Economics: A Human Capital Informed Approach for Adults Learning Online. J Econ Educ. 2015 Jan 2;46(1):45–55.
  53. Schweitzer NJ. Wikipedia and psychology: Coverage of concepts and its use by undergraduate students. Teach Psychol. 2008 Jun;35(2):81–5.
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  55. Azer SA, AlSwaidan NM, Alshwairikh LA, AlShammari JM. Accuracy and readability of cardiovascular entries on Wikipedia: are they reliable learning resources for medical students? Bmj Open. 2015;5(10):e008187.
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