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Brussels, 9th December 2002

Commission recommends Quality Criteria for Health Websites

European citizens are large-scale consumers of health-related information on the Internet. The European Commission has adopted a Communication setting out a core set of Quality Criteria for Health Related Websites. It outlines 6 quality criteria: transparency and honesty, authority, privacy and data protection, updating of information, accountability and accessibility. The Communication states the need to tailor these criteria according to particular audiences and describes the methods of implementing quality criteria including codes of conduct, self applied codes or quality labels, user guidance tools, filtering tools, and third party quality and accreditation systems.

Erkki Liikanen, EU Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information society, stated "Europeans access more than 100,000 health websites, making such websites amongst the most frequently used. 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."

David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said "The Internet can be a great ally for public health. It can help empower patients, it can help citizens make healthy lifestyle choices. The key is to find ways for the valid, the relevant, the helpful on-line information to be distinguished from the unreliable, or downright bogus. Today's initiative is a step towards achieving that."

The Communication was drafted through a workshop with 60 representatives from government, industry and NGOs, as well as via an on-line public consultation.

The objective of the criteria is to guide Member States in possible implementation of quality assurance measures for the health-related Internet. The criteria address issues of both supplier and user education they tell suppliers how to comply with key quality criteria and educate users as to what they ought to expect from a good health website. The criteria apply to both passive information giving sites as well as sites that allow for transactions between service or information providers and users (i.e. information, products and services).

The Communication invites Member States and national and regional health authorities to implement the quality criteria, develop information campaigns, localise available information, and exchange information on how quality standards are implemented.

The implementation of the criteria will be monitored by the Commission in the context of eEurope 2005 Action Plan.

As a final conclusion, the Communication notes that within the context of the Information Society activities and as part of the implementation of the European Union Public Health Programme, consideration will be given to the possibilities of establishing a system of recognisable EU seals of approval for Internet sites.


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