Access to good quality health information is a key component of any health system. With the emergence of information and communication technologies, new tools have become available to facilitate the compilation, publication and access to such data. However, these new tools also present new challenges. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly difficult to gauge the reliability of health information on the web. In addition, the fact that there exists a variety of data must be acknowledged and encouraged.
It is at present not clear whether the techniques used to compile medical data on line are effective and whether the criteria used to assess the data’s reliability are applicable in all cases. In fact, local adaptations will probably be needed to account for the wide variety of social, economic and cultural contexts in which the data are used.
In this project, supported by the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN), complementary initiatives are being undertaken in order to draft recommendations for the compilation and evaluation of on-line medical data that take into account socio-cultural and economic factors. Information drawn up in accordance with those recommendations should be eligible for inclusion in the Global Health Library (GHL) project of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and be certified by the Health on the Net (HON) Foundation.
The GHL aims to provide access to reliable health information on a virtual platform that assembles multiple resources and points specific user groups (health ministries, health practitioners, information providers, patients, the general public) to content according to their needs.
The HON Foundation, for its part, has spent the past ten years developing best practice rules for the publication of reliable medical information on the web, in particular the HONcode, and the tools enabling interested parties to access them. Active mainly in developed countries where it has over 5,000 certified medical sites in 72 countries, the HON Foundation has decided to expand its work to developing countries by establishing regional representations that will aim to meet local needs for certification and validation of on-line medical information.
Internet tools can also be successfully used to ensure ongoing teletraining of health professionals, if the course content and organisation are adapted to local realities and needs. This is one of the main research and development fields of the University of Geneva’s UNESCO Chair of Telemedicine, established in 2005.
The present project aims to enhance understanding of health data globalisation issues, to study how trust in that information can be built, and to identify the skills required to develop the three initiatives in developing countries.
This implies not only identifying the aforementioned skills, but also conducting a socio-anthropological study to pinpoint the specific socio-cultural factors by which confidence in on-line medical content – the project’s core issue – is built. The conceptual and methodological support of the Graduate Institute of Development Studies (IUED) in Geneva and the Institute of Human Sciences in Mali is thus key to the project’s success.
The study will focus on content intended for health professionals and on French-speaking Africa, Mali in particular; it nevertheless anticipates that it will be possible to transpose some of the results to sub-Saharan Africa.
Several activities will be carried out: a) an inventory will be made of the principal sources of on-line medical content in French-speaking Africa; b) the HONcode principles will be used to certify the web sites identified and to list the problems encountered during their evaluation; c) the criteria for determining the reliability of on-line medical content specifically will be identified, using the socio-anthropological approach (questionnaire and semi-structured interviews).
The initial results will be validated at a conference of medical information technology specialists in Bamako in January 2007, which will also collate the additional data (questionnaire). In-depth interviews will be conducted with specialists and users to consolidate the reliability criteria, which will then be presented at a consensus conference to be held in May 2007 where guidelines for the production and validation of high-quality medical content will be finalised. The guidelines, for their part, will be validated at feedback meetings held in Geneva and Bamako in September 2007 and the results published.