Explaining the HONcode Seal of Approval

With the proliferation of so-called authorities watching over health Web sites and online pharmacies today, I thought it might be helpful to write occasionally about some of the authorities that are actually worth relying upon as a consumer. These include Pharmacy Checker.com, CIPA, MIPA and IMPAC for online pharmacies, and the Health on the Net Foundation for health Web sites.

The Health On the Net (HON) Foundation is a non-profit organization created by the Geneva Ministry of Health in Geneva, Switzerland. It was founded in 1995 to help both consumers and medical professionals find reliable sources of health information online.

Toward this end, the HON Foundation established the HON Code of Conduct (HONcode) for health and medical Web sites. eDrugSearch.com is proud to carry the HONcode seal on our site. As the foundation’s Web site explains:

The Health on the Net Foundation Code of Conduct for medical and health Web sites addresses one of Internet’s main healthcare issues: the reliability and credibility of information. The Health On the Net Foundation has elaborated the Code of Conduct to help standardise the reliability of medical and health information available on the World Wide Web.

The HONcode … defines a set of rules to … hold Web site developers to basic ethical standards in the presentation of information [and] help make sure readers always know the source and the purpose of the data they are reading.

To be certified by the HON Foundation to carry the HONcode seal on your Web site, you must submit your Web site for review. The foundation reviews Web sites to ensure they abide by the following eight principles:

1. Authoritative. Any medical or health advice provided and hosted on this site will only be given by medically trained and qualified professionals unless a clear statement is made that a piece of advice offered is from a non-medically qualified individual or organisation.

2. Complementarity. The information provided on this site is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her existing physician.

3. Privacy. Confidentiality of data relating to individual patients and visitors to a medical/health Web site, including their identity, is respected by this Web site. The Web site owners undertake to honour or exceed the legal requirements of medical/health information privacy that apply in the country and state where the Web site and mirror sites are located.

4. Attribution. Where appropriate, information contained on this site will be supported by clear references to source data and, where possible, have specific HTML links to that data. The date when a clinical page was last modified will be clearly displayed (e.g. at the bottom of the page).

5. Justifiability. Any claims relating to the benefits/performance of a specific treatment, commercial product or service will be supported by appropriate, balanced evidence in the manner outlined above in Principle 4.

6. Transparency. The designers of this Web site will seek to provide information in the clearest possible manner and provide contact addresses for visitors that seek further information or support. The Webmaster will display his/her E-mail address clearly throughout the Web site.

7. Financial disclosure. Support for this Web site will be clearly identified, including the identities of commercial and non-commercial organisations that have contributed funding, services or material for the site.

8. Advertising policy. If advertising is a source of funding it will be clearly stated. A brief description of the advertising policy adopted by the Web site owners will be displayed on the site. Advertising and other promotional material will be presented to viewers in a manner and context that facilitates differentiation between it and the original material created by the institution operating the site.

HONcode-certified Web sites generally carry the seal on their home page. You can get confirmation of the certification simply by clicking the seal, which should take you to the site’s certification page on the HON Foundation Web site.

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