GHF2006 – PS05 – Can We Trust Medical Information Online?

Session Outline

Parallel session PS05, Wednesday, August 30 2006, 16:00-17:30
Chair(s): Antoine Geissbuhler, Switzerland, Kazem Behbehani, Switzerland
A Decade Devoted to Improving Online Health Information Quality
Celia Boyer, Quality and Ethics, Health On the Net Foundation, Geneva 14, Switzerland 
The Global Health Library: Global Access to Health Information
Yvonne Grandbois, WHO Library and Information Networks for Knowledge, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
Wikipedia: An Experiment in International Cooperation in Collecting and Disseminating Knowledge
Florence Devouard, Wikimedia Foundation, Malintrat, France

Session Documents

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Session Report

Submitted by: Marc Menichini (ICVolunteers); Contributors: Prof. Antoine Geissbuhler (HCUGE), Philippe Berset (ICVolunteers), Tatjana Schwabe (ICVolunteers)

Image: Viola Krebs,

Access to reliable medical information, as well as ensuring its quality, validity and availability were the main issues presented in this track V session. As the chairpersons emphasized, the three speakers presented different, yet complementary ways to bridge the knowledge gap between people who have Internet access and the ones who rely on offline oral or written transmission.

This session on the accuracy of medical information online saw three speakers presenting their organisation's approaches to ensure quality in health information.

Ms. Celia Boyer presented insights into the work of the Health On the Net Foundation (HON), which is devoted to bringing more reliable online medical information. Saying that "anyone can put information on the net but this information can be misleading [...] and even harmful", she made a case for principles to ensure that websites inform in an efficient manner.

Following initiatives led by different governmental and non governmental organisations, HON implemented its own code of conducts in 1998, which do not regard the content, but rather the way information is presented online. Web sites voluntarily seeking the HON accreditation are invited to comply with its eight principles. HON will work with the web designers and content produces to make the needed modifications. The most common problem encountered are the web sites advertising policies (59% of the cases). The HON also carries out follow-up through its annual auditing.

Numerous partnerships have now been started, including one with Google in which a medical searches can be refined using tags attributed by HON on the accredited Websites, and a toolbar indicating if the web site has been accredited. Another project brings together the University of Geneva, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and a University from Bamako, Mali and investigates socio-cultural determinants in the confidence one can have in online health information.

Speaking on behalf of the WHO Library, Ms. Yvonne Grandbois presented the new Global Health Library. It aims at improving access to health information by bringing together diverse communities such as publishers, libraries, medical professionals and others, in order for them to share their knowledge. This would initiate a world wide coordinated effort to bridge the inequality gap in access to health.

The program has also developed interesting strategies to respond to the needs of people who do not have access to the internet by creating "mobile libraries" contained in boxes, which are sent to Africa and Asia. The information provided by this network is free of charge. Several comments from the floor concerned challenges this new project might face in the future, such as training consumers to use this information or including mobile phones. Ms. Grandbois mentioned the necessity of creating more partnerships and developing the fundraising strategies.

Following the first two health-focused media, a representative of the Wikimedia Foundation was invited to share their thoughts and experience on collecting and disseminating knowledge. Ms. Florence Devouard presented the philosophy and main activities of the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. She pointed out that Wikipedia avoided financial barriers, was open to multilingual sources and worldwide editors, and relied on its editors to check and, if necessary, to correct the articles' contents. The web site aims at creating a "collaborative community" where the neutrality of point of view remains crucial. While all relevant opinions can be published on a topic, the site refuses any advocacy or philosophical content. Ms. Devouard briefly discussed limits and constraints such as the stability of the information, legal risks linked to publishing, and censorship in different countries. She also stressed that Wikipedia did not provide medical advice but general information and did not replace medical doctors.

The three presentations showed that trustworthy information already exists online and that different tools are available to improve the access to reliable medical knowledge. With the increasingly global network in the future, these services remain to be developed and optimised  further.


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