Hi-Ethics, TRUSTe to Develop ‘eHealth Seal’
Health Internet Ethics Inc., or Hi-Ethics, a coalition of 18 "prominent" health Internet sites, announced yesterday that it will team up with the not-for-profit Internet privacy organization TRUSTe to develop an "eHealth seal" that will identify health Web sites in compliance with Hi-Ethics' principles. To receive the seal, a Web site must undergo a "rigorous" screening process to ensure that it adheres to Hi-Ethics' guidelines on privacy, confidentiality, quality of health information, advertising and commercial relationships, consumer relations and best practices for professionals on the Internet (Hi-Ethics release, 12/12). Hi-Ethics Chair and Healthwise Inc. CEO Donald Kemper called the seal a "major milestone" in earning consumers' trust. Kemper said that the development of online health information has been the "one single advancement" that has broadened consumers' role in health care, and he wants that role to expand. "Our purpose has been clear; to earn the trust of the Internet consumer," Kemper said. He added that privacy and other standards "have no value" unless they can be validated, and consumers should be made aware of which sites do and do not meet the standards. Dr. Bruce Hensel of drkoop.com, one of Hi-Ethics' member companies, added that the new seal provides a "golden opportunity [to] empower people with enough information to get involved in their own health care." Bob Lewin, president and CEO of TRUSTe, said that the development of the eHealth Seal would begin "immediately" and that he expected the seal to be commercially available by the end of the first quarter in 2001 (Meredith McGroarty, California Healthline, 12/13).
The eHealth Seal will include a "branded trustmark" on a Web site's home page that links directly to a statement of practices and a "click to verify" seal that will allow customers to make sure that a Web site is a "bona-fide participant" of the eHealth seal program (Hi-Ethics release, 12/12). Consumers who feel that a site bearing the seal is not in compliance with the principles can contact TRUSTe, which will serve as an "independent third-party" organization to field any complaints. Lewin said that penalties for certified sites not in compliance with the seal included a "range of options," from being removed from the program to possible legal action. For now, Hi-Ethics will focus on issuing the seal for its core membership of 18 Web sites, but Kemper said that eventually "any major health Web site" could be able to participate in the program. Kemper speculated that within the next six to 12 months, the "top 100 [health] sites" will have contacted Hi-Ethics to be included in the program. Lewin estimated that, based on TRUSTe's current seal program, the screening and approval process for companies that have applied for the seal would take from three to four weeks for smaller businesses and up to three months for larger companies. TRUSTe's existing program costs about $600 for applying companies, but Lewin suggested that the eHealth Seal would cost a bit more (McGroarty, California Healthline, 12/13).
Last May, Hi-Ethics members drafted 14 principles for member organizations to follow. These principles addressed privacy, security and quality of information issues for member Web sites. According to the principles, Hi-Ethics member sites "will not disclose health-related personal information to an unrelated third party and/or for unrelated purposes without first obtaining the consent of the consumer" by an "explicit opt-in" procedure. Member sites also agreed to "disclose those who have major financial interests in [them] or the health Web sites [they] operate, and those who give [them] significant funding or other assistance." Member sites also have promised not to "deliberately provide false or misleading information" and will "clearly distinguish advertising from health information content" (Hi-Ethics Internet Principles). For a list of Hi-Ethics members and principles, go to the Hi-Ethics Web site at http://www.hiethics.org/.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.