Health on the Net Foundation goes Web 2.0

The subject of the quality of healthcare information on the Internet is rich and recurring. The main question we hear regularly is whether or not Internet users are finding quality health information. But it’s not the only one. There is also: how governments can/should protect citizens? And more recently, do Web 2.0 tools give users more power or make them more exposed to poor quality information?

This article focuses on Health on the Net. Established in 1995 in Geneva Switzerland, HON is the longest running, most widespread code of conduct dedicated to health and the Internet. HON will release its next Web 2.0 tool during the Health 2.0 Europe Conference, Paris April 6-7, 2010

HON plays a special role in France. In October 2007, after a lengthy review process, the French High Health Authority (Haute Autorité de Santé) accredited HON as its partner for the certification of health sites in France, in view of its simplicity, widespread presence, and accessibility for webmasters free of charge. 859 French sites are currently certified by HON, one of the largest numbers for a single country, except for the U.S.

To be certified, web sites commit to the respect of 8 principles that primarily concern transparency. HON certification status is indicated on the site by presence of the HON seal. HON uses online tools to monitor the certified sites and also performs a systematic annual review of each one. The HONcode is used by over 6,800 certified websites, covering 118 countries and has been translated into 26 languages.

In addition to the HONcode, HON has developed various search and other tools.

The HON Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, accredited to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. The Foundation is financed by the Canton of Geneva, the Geneva University Hospital, various grants including from the European Commission, and support from the French health authorities.

I had the pleasure of inviting Celia Boyer, HON’s executive director, to speak for the first time in France on HON in 1996 and am looking forward to HON’s participation in the “search and content” panel at Health 2.0 Europe in April in Paris. And I recently had the chance to interview her.

Denise: Since when have you been working on Web 2.0 projects at HON?

Celia: We have been involved in web 2.0 applications since early 2006 with podcast and rss feeds for our conferences directory.

Denise: When did you start working on your HONCode 2.0 directive?

Celia: In 2008, we realized that one out of two websites had web 2.0 functionalities. The HON-certified webmasters expressed a need for a web 2.0 code. We decided to start working on it with the French high health authority or HAS (Haute Autorité de Santé).

Denise: Only with the French authorities?  ;-)

Celia: HON elaborated and validated the Web 2.0 directive with all HONcode certified webmasters. Since HON is collaborating the French authorities, we shared and integrate the HAS in the evaluation of the Web2.0 directive amongst the French HONcode certified websites.

Denise: When did you finish?

Celia: In early 2009 we released our HONcode Web 2.0 application guidelines. 86% of respondents think it is important that users become aware of the chart before using their platform and 88% find it necessary to establish specific rules for collaborative platforms. We notify all web sites having a Web 2.0 section regarding our HONcodeweb2.0.

Denise: You also published a report in 2009 regarding the usage of the Internet by the Geneva Canton physicians.

Celia: Yes, and the outcome of this survey was very interesting. One out of two doctors who responded via the Internet had already recommended websites to patients. 3 out of 4 physicians with an Internet connection in their offices use an Internet tool for selecting sites for quality and trust by topic to advise their patients. Of these, nearly 70% would make use of a a print version of pre-selected sites listed by topic or disease to guide his/her patients.

Denise: Did you apply the survey results to your web 2.0 directives?

Celia: Yes, the survey made us decide to develop a service to fill the need. We were hoping that we’d  guide the citizen toward trustworthy information, instead of relying only on search engines, where people sometimes lack critical judgment.

Denise: The collective set of opinions will be superior to the opinion of one physician? :-)

Celia: Communication through the Internet is not a reality between physician and patients due to lack of time and lack of options. No services are available for such exchange and sharing information.

Denise: Except for the HON Web 2.0 tool! Can you describe it?

Celia: We will release this service officially during the Health 2.0 Europe conference. So I will not tell you too much about it. However, I can tell you that the tool aims to facilitate the sharing of medical and health online information between patients and physicians with practical functionalities in order to personalize health online information and search engines facilities.


We hope you’ll join us for more of the conversation at Health 2.0 Europe.

Denise Silber of, Basil Strategies is Health 2.0’s European partner. Basil Strategies is based in Paris, where the Health 2.0 Europe Conference will be held on April 6–7.

2 Responses to Health on the Net Foundation goes Web 2.0

  1. I came across your post while trying to find a source for health-related topics. This is valuable information presented in a clear, concise manner. Your posts always show me that you really have some indepth knowledge about this. Quite a valuable read i must say. -Shane

  2. Ken Weiss says:

    Reliable information on the internet can sometimes be questionable. I usually start with WebMD, and if other blogs share information of similar quality and content, I may visit them for information on prostate health and other men's health issues.

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