Brussels, 12 Dec 2002
The European Commission has published a communication outlining its quality criteria for websites offering health related information to citizens.
The communication comes after a decision was made by the European Council to support such an initiative within the eEurope 2002 Action Plan, and after wide consultation with governments, industry, international organisations, and representatives from medical and patient interest groups.
Health related websites are among the most frequently accessed on the Internet, and Erkki Liikanen, Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, has been quoted as saying that: 'It is therefore imperative that such websites and the services they provide meet high quality standards. I trust that our recommended standards will be welcomed and embraced by both the industry and Internet users in Europe.'
There are six key criteria contained within the communication:
- transparency and honesty - which includes the clear communication of the name and address of the site managers, the purpose of the site, its target audience, and transparency of all sources of funding;
- authority - involving a clear statement of sources for information, the date of publication, and the name and credentials of information providers;
- privacy and data protection - sites should have a data protection policy for processing personal data in accordance with EU data protection legislation;
- updating of information - clear and regular updating of the site and its contents with the details of updates clearly published on the relevant page;
- accountability - includes a clearly defined editorial policy, a method for customer feedback, and appropriate oversight responsibility such as a quality compliance officer;
- accessibility - attention to guidelines on physical accessibility as well as general findability, searchability, readability, and usability.
According to the document, these criteria can be used as the basis for development of user guides, voluntary codes of conduct, trustmarks, or accreditation systems at a European, national, or organisational level. The criteria should be applied in addition to the relevant Community law on consumer protection, advertising, data protection and medicinal products.
The Commission answered calls for the creation of an EU trustmark for health related websites by saying that such an initiative did not fall within the scope of the eEurope 2002 Action Plan, but said that it may be considered within future European programmes.
To read the communication, please consult the following web address: http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/com/cnc/ 2002/com2002_0667en01.pdf