Wikipedia is one of the most popular online sources of information on a wide range of topics, including health and medical affairs. While a large body of research examines Wikipedia’s factual accuracy, few studies look at user perceptions and the actual use of the online encyclopaedia. Previous work has mostly explored students’ use of Wikipedia, but little is known about the attitudes of older generations of Internet users towards the online encyclopaedia. Based on 40 qualitative face-to-face interviews, this study explores the attitudes, perceptions, and use of Wikipedia as a source of health and medical information for middle-aged and older adults (50–80 years old) in Belgium. The study finds that six qualities and characteristics make Wikipedia an attractive source of health- and medical information: convenience, coverage, topicality, comprehensibility, conciseness, and familiarity. However, Wikipedia ultimately appears to play a limited role in the health management and decision-making practices of study participants as they use the online encyclopaedia primarily to obtain basic facts and general information. Furthermore, the doctor remains the most trusted and important source of information as well as the sole medical authority. Given the fact that the majority of respondents only possessed rudimentary knowledge of Wikipedia’s workings, Wikipedia might attempt to better explain how it operates and how health and medical entries are created and edited. Novel because of its qualitative approach and exploration of an understudied target audience, this study contributes original insights as well as nuances to prior Wikipedia user-centric studies.
Wikipedia; online health information; middle-aged adults; older adults; Belgium; qualitative interviews