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19 October 2000

New from Heidelberg: Digital Trustmark for Health Information on the Web

University of Heidelberg coordinates European project to introduce trustmarks for health information on the World Wide Web — European Union takes the lead in assuring quality of medical information on the Internet — International experts meet in Heidelberg for a consensus workshop

Medical associations, patients' organisations and Germany's health minister Andrea Fischer have been calling for it for some time and now it's on its way: a digital trustmark for health information on the Web to assist users in assessing the trustworthiness of medical offerings on the Internet and to make the glut of information on the World Wide Web more transparent. The project is called MedCERTAIN (Certification and Rating of Trustworthy and Assessed Health Information on the Net, and is being funded to the tune of 1 million marks by the European Union in the framework of its Action Plan for Internet User Security. The initiating and coordinating body is the Cybermedicine and e-Health research group at the Department of Clinical Social Medicine of the University of Heidelberg under the directorship of Dr. Gunther Eysenbach. For several years now the Group has been investigating the challenges and opportunities of e-Health and is one of the leading research teams on this issue in the world.

The aim of the MedCERTAIN project is to establish an organisational and technical infrastructure for decentralised information assessment by experts and specialist medical bodies and to supply information providers with a standardised form of self-regulation and medical information description called meta-information. "The last thing we want," says Eysenbach, "is a central institute deciding what information is good or bad. We're working on a decentralised solution giving users additional security about whether information providers are trustworthy or not."

What is "quality" medical information?

To introduce a trustmark, experts and patients first have to agree on uniform quality criteria. What standards does "quality" health information on the Internet have to comply with? And what are the features independent experts will be investigating when they judge the trustworthiness of a website? These were the central topics at a recent meeting of representatives from the health industries, medical science, specialist medical bodies, government agencies, medical and consumer associations, the European Union and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Heidelberg designed to elaborate joint quality criteria for the assessment, evaluation and certification of medical information. The Consensus Workshop was attended by 80 participants from 21 countries (Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States).

The MedCERTAIN Consortium consisting, alongside the University of Heidelberg, of various project partners from numerous other European countries is planning a 3-tier certification process. Level-1 trustmarks are given to information providers voluntarily agreeing to abide by a new best-practice code and depositing certain categories of consumer information in a database. This information (such as who's behind the information, author qualifications, sponsoring, internal quality assurance, etc.) can be drawn upon by users at any time.

Prior to the award of a Level-2 trustmark the information is verified and the website visited and checked for compliance with the formal criteria. Level-3 trustmarks are awarded after experts and medical societies have checked the content for errors and made any recommendations that may be necessary.

MedCERTAIN trustmark

For more information on Cybermedicine & e-Health see

In future the MedCERTAIN trustmark will serve as a guide for consumers seeking quality health information on the Internet. It will also feature a validity date and the address of the provider the trustmark has been awarded to.

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Gunther Eysenbach
Cybermedicine and e-Health Research Group
Dept. of Clinical Social Medicine, University of Heidelberg
Phone: 06221-568897 (mobile: 0172-8249086), fax: 565584

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 28.10.2000


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