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Health On the Net Foundation: HONcode

How in the world do we locate trustworthy health and medical information? This is a particular dilemma as we search the vast information readily available on the World Wide Web. If only we knew who we could trust and where we could seek valued information regarding our health. Being better in-formed serves to promote better dialogue with our health care providers. This enables us to make wiser decisions regarding our health and lifestyle choices.

The good news is that a high standard is being set by a non governmental organization known as HONcode: Health on the Net Code of Conduct. Their goal is to evaluate trustworthy health and medical information.

The HONcode for medical and health websites addresses key issues regarding the reliability and credibility of the Internet’s healthcare information. As a communication media, the Inter-net is one of the most widely used methods. Widely accessible websites can be set up and publish any kind of data. So the plethora of information creates the new twist that finding information is not the problem, but the problem becomes assessing the credibility of the publisher as well as evaluating the accuracy of the information. Often a website provides no documentation regarding medical studies that support given claims.

This is where Health on the Net and the elaborated Code of Con-duct comes into play. HONcode service helps to standardize the transparency of medical and health information available on the World Wide Web. Interestingly, HONcode certification is free of charge. The certification process conducted by HON indicates that approved websites have been thoroughly evaluated based on the HONcode guidelines. HONcode provides ongoing surveillance over the year and requires a systematic biennial review of HONcode certified websites.

HONcode certification defines a set of rules that:

  • Assures that websites follow basic ethical standards in how information is presented
  • Creates informed readers who always know the source and purpose of the data presented on the website

With these rules in mind, it is evident that certification is not an award system and that the information is not rated in a qualitative way.

Certification principles as summarized include:

  1. Authoritative
    Medical advice provided on site will only be given by medically trained and qualified professionals
  2. Complementarity
    Information on this site is designed to support, not replace, the physician/patient relationship
  3. Privacy
    Confidentiality of data relating to visitors to a medical/health website exceeds legal requirements that apply.
  4. Attribution
    Information contained will be supported by clear references to source data and references for the data.
  5. Justifiability
    Appropriate support and balanced evidence supporting any claims relating to the benefits/performance is relayed on website.
  6. Transparency
    Provide clear information and provide contact addresses for further information or sup-port. Webmaster displays his/her E-mail address clearly throughout the website.
  7. Financial disclosure
    Support for the website is clearly identified including commercial and noncommercial organizations contributing to the site.
  8. Advertising policy
    If funding is provided through advertising it will be clearly stated.

For a more detailed description and guidelines for these principles please visit HONcode website listed below.

This information is presented to assure you, our reader, that our website: www.ttuhsc.edu/cnnt has been certified through the HONcode process. Visiting our website, you will see that our certification is current through 12/2013. This can be verified via the link to HONcode taking you directly to the HONcode website.

Looking for this symbol can be a valuable tool in assuring you that information you obtain on the web through HONcode certified sites is reliable, meeting high standards.

If you or your organization has a website you may choose to apply for certification. But, at least look for the HONcode Certification as you seek health information to be assured that the standards and principles described are upheld.

For additional HONcode information:

Website: www.healthonnet.org
Email to request certification: HONcoderquest@healthonnet.org
Phone: +41 22 37 26 250 Fax: +41 22 30 55 728
Skype: honcode

Install this browser plugin to the tool bar to help identify certified websites:
http://www.hon.ch/HONcode/Plugin/Plugins.html

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