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How it started

Even before HON was launched in early 1995, several members of the Net community – healthcare professionals as well as ordinary "surfers" – were complaining how difficult it was to assess the reliability of information.

Of particular concern was the uncertain quality of medical advice provided on growing numbers of Web sites and the lack of scientific evidence behind claims made for commercially-available treatments. HON also noticed that many sites were not providing even basic user orientation, like the source of cited documents, Webmaster contact information, last-update notices on pages or information on their organisational structure and funding.

Then as now, these omissions were in most cases free of malicious intent. But user trust and good business practices go hand in hand: such information is essential if Web sites are to attract and successfully retain customers.

HON's discussions with Webmasters and information providers soon showed they were anxious to improve their services and would happily follow some simple, broadly-accepted rules and guidelines for content presentation. Out of this, in July, 1996, sprang the first version of the HON Code of Conduct for medical and health Web sites (HONcode).

The HONcode aims to raise the quality of healthcare information available on the Net. It is a voluntary certification system based on an "active seal" concept. While primarily intended for healthcare site developers and publishers, the blue-and-red HONcode seal on subscribing sites also helps users identify sources of reliable information.

It addresses, among other things, the authority of the information provided, data confidentiality and privacy, proper attribution of sources, transparency of financial sponsorship and the importance of clearly separating advertising from editorial content.

The HONcode today

Over the first ten months of its existence, after a large open to discussion and comment the HONcode was slightly modified and also expanded from six to eight principles The current version has remained unchanged since April, 1997. This version is the result of a consensus amongst webmaster and key players.

It has been translated and is in use in 35 different language versions: Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian Malaysian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish...

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