|We comply with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health
Regular readers may note that I have been diddling with the content of my left sidebar and posting a new disclaimer tab to indicate the accuracy and objectivity of the health information presented herein.
I added these details as part of my application for accreditation by the Swiss-based Health on the Net (HON) Foundation, a non-profit organization formed in 1996 to deal with the then-new issue of how a reader can determine the quality and objectivity of medical information on a website. You can find the HONcode accreditation on many medical websites and I have been recommending for over 10 years that readers look for HON accreditation particularly on sites offering alternative medicine information.
The HON mission is articulated as follows:
Our mission is to guide the growing community of healthcare consumers and providers on the World Wide Web to sound, reliable medical information and expertise. In this way, HON seeks to contribute to better, more accessible and cost-effective health care.
Quality assessment has been our concern since the beginning. We recognise the need for systematic and stringent peer review. We have led international efforts to improve the quality of medical information on the Internet, notably through the HON Code of Conduct (HONcode) for healthcare site developers. This remains a HON priority.
I recently saw that some of my med blog colleagues like Dr Val and Berci Meskó have been granted HON accreditation over the last year and I thought we would qualify as well. Part of the motivation came from discussions with Janet Stemwedel over blogger ethics and several attacks on patient support discussion forums (never here, of course) stating that I am “a paid hit-man for Big Pharma.”
Well, the process is pretty interesting and comprehensive. I originally applied to the HON Foundation on 30 Nov 2007, filling out an extensive survey on attributes of the blog that address the eight principles of the HONcode (see end of post). The blog was then monitored for two months by actual readers at the Foundation headquarters in Geneva during which time I received three e-mails asking for changes or clarifications to bring the blog into compliance. I’m happy to report that we were officially accredited on 6 February 2008.
The blog will continue to be monitored unannounced for the duration of our accreditation (one year) to be sure that I don’t use the blog to start selling dubious erectile dysfunction supplements or telling you cancer is not a real disease.
Seeking HON accreditation is not necessary for all medical bloggers but it is voluntary and applying is free. Your blog will then appear in the HON search engine for readers who seek HON-accredited information on your health specialty.
Well, I guess I’d better stop jabbering and get back to generating some medical and health content.
For your reference, here is the Health on the Net Foundation code of conduct for medical and health websites:
1. Authoritative – Indicate the qualifications of the authors
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 – Information should support, not replace, the doctor-patient relationship
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 – Respect the privacy and confidentiality of personal data submitted to the site by the visitor
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 – Cite the source(s) of published information, date and medical and health pages
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 – Site must back up claims relating to benefits and performance
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 – Accessible presentation, accurate email contact
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 – Identify funding sources
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 – Clearly distinguish advertising from editorial content
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.