The Internet has literally opened a whole new world for patient-directed research, often offering patients access to information about diagnoses and treatments about which their physicians are not yet aware or informed. This creates a significant shift of power-and responsibility-from physicians to patients. Already, more than 17 million Americans have accessed medical care data online this year, a 35% increase from 1997. Of all on-line users, nearly half have accessed medical or health information. These numbers have encouraged nearly $120 million in venture-capital funding of Internet-related health-care companies, according to Business Week. . .yet there is no regulation or quality control of the information content or advice that these sites deliver. With an estimated 15,000 health and medical sites, the amount of data that is incorrect is staggering and clearly challenges the credibility of the Web itself.
Health on the Net, a nonprofit organization which gives "certification" to cites who voluntarily commit to a list of eight principles comprising their "Net Code of Conduct":
- Any medical/health advice will be given by medically qualified professionals unless a clear statement is made to the contrary.
- The information on the site is designed to support, not replace, the existing doctor-patient relationship.
- Patient confidentiality is respected and honored by this site.
- Where appropriate, information will be supported by clear references with specific HTML links. Dates of last modification of clinical pages will be clearly displayed.
- Any claims about specific treatments, commercial products or services will be supported by appropriate, balanced, and reference evidence.
- Website hosts commit to provide information in the clearest possible manner with contact information for further support.
- Financial support for the website will be clearly identified.
- If advertising is a source of funding it will be clearly stated along with the advertising policy adopted by the website owners.