From the desk of Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, January 28, 2011

Editor's note: This feature is written by nursing staff development expert Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN. Each week, Adrianne writes about an important issue in the area of staff development or answers reader questions. If you have a question for Adrianne, e-mail her at

How to determine whether healthcare information on the Internet is reliable

There is so much information pertaining to healthcare on the Internet that it is virtually impossible to calculate how much is out there. Equally impossible to determine is the reliability of all healthcare sites and the information they provide. Some sites are from healthcare organizations and associations that have solid reputations in the scientific healthcare community. Others are from persons who are relaying information to sell specific products, to share personal experiences and opinions, and still others who may simply have the desire to create malicious mischief.

As educators, we depend on being able to retrieve reliable information from the Internet. One such way is to check whether the healthcare site we are viewing is certified by the Health On the Net Foundation (HON), a non-government organization.

HON was founded to "encourage the dissemination of quality health information for patients and professionals and the general public, and to facilitate access to the latest and most relevant medical data through use of the Internet."(HON, 2010).

The HON website has areas for patients/individuals, medical professionals, and web publishers. The HON code certification is an ethical standard. Its intent is to guide site managers in setting up a minimum set of mechanisms to provide "quality, objective, and transparent information tailored to the needs of the audience" (HON, 2010).

The HON code is used by more than 7,300 certified websites, including more than 10 million pages, covering 102 countries.

The HON code of conduct consists of eight principles that must exist in order to achieve certification. These include:

  1. Authoritative: Qualifications of authors must be given.
  2. Complementarity: Information is given to support, not replace, information provided by patients' healthcare providers.
  3. Confidentiality: The privacy of site users must be respected.
  4. Attribution: Sources and dates of medical information must be cited.
  5. Justifiability: Claims must be justified as well as balanced and objective.
  6. Transparency: Information offered must be accessible and provide valid contact details.
  7. Financial disclosure: Details of funding must be provided.
  8. Advertising: Advertising must be clearly distinguished from editorial content.

For further information, visit the HON website, and check to see whether your favorite healthcare sites are HON certified.

Health On the Net. (2010). "The commitment to reliable health and medical information on the Internet." Retrieved January 20, 2011 from

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