HON Foundation Launches New Certificate, Study on Internet Use

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Health On the Net (HON) Foundation, the non-profit organization that oversees the HONcode, the oldest and most widely used ethical and trustworthy code for medical- and health-related information on the Internet, recently launched a new and improved certificate for medical and health web sites [1]. The new certificate is an initiative to further enhance the HONcode certification system and to encourage health and medical information seekers to be more critical when searching for information online. It is also intended to advance the ethical use and promotion of health and medical data among online information providers.

The HONcode is the most broadly accepted reference for online health and medical publishers. Health or medical web sites holding HONcode certification ensures its visitors that it follows primary ethical standards in its presentation of information, based on eight basic principles:

  1. Authority — Indicate the qualifications of the author(s).
  2. Complementarity — Information should support, not replace, the doctor-patient relationship, which is the desired means of contact.
  3. Privacy — Respect the privacy and confidentiality of personal data submitted to the site by the visitor.
  4. Attribution — Cite the source(s) of published information, date and medical and health pages.
  5. Justifiability — The website must back up claims relating to benefits and performance.
  6. Transparency — Accessible presentation, accurate email contact of authors.
  7. Financial disclosure — Sponsorship should be transparent and funding sources identified.
  8. Advertising policy — Clearly distinguish advertising from editorial content.

Sites that have been approved by HON and follow the ethical standards in the presentation of information can display a HONcode seal. Currently, the HONcode is used by over 7,200 certified web sites — including Highlight HEALTH — covering 102 countries.

The new HONcode certificate


The new HONcode certificate retains features provided in the original one: basic information about the web site, the date of certification and both initial and recent review dates. In addition, it now displays indications used by the HON Foundation during the site evaluation, with sample extracts from the web site that demonstrate how it follows the HONcode (click on the image to see Highlight HEALTH’s certificate).

Although the certificate states that “this information has been extracted manually by the HONcode evaluation team during the manual evaluation of the website”, we found several inaccuracies with Highlight HEALTH’s certificate. Notably, although the mission of Highlight HEALTH is described on our About page, the new HONcode certificate instead references a recent article on Medpedia.¬†Our About page also describes the purpose of Highlight HEALTH, but this isn’t reflected in the HONcode certificate. Lastly, although we have an advertising policy, the section labeled Advertising policy is blank.

Although some details clearly need to be addressed, the new certificate nevertheless enhances the HONcode system by providing additional, detailed information to better inform healthcare seekers.

HON is conducting a study on Internet use for health/medical purposes

During the month of July, the HON Foundation is inviting individuals and medical professionals to participate in its Summer 2010 survey, which focuses on how the Internet is being used for health and medical purposes. The survey includes questions on how a person searches the Internet for disease information, how a person places importance on various health web site characteristics and how a person typically behaves when faced with situations involving the Internet and health information.

To take part in the survey, visit http://www.hon.ch/Survey2010/

To communicate and promote the goals of the Health On the Net Foundation, HON is now on Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to fan or follow them and support their endeavors.


  1. HON launches new certificate. Health On the Net Foundation press release. 2010 Jun 21.
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.