The Significance of the
HONcode Principles

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF) adheres to the HONcode principles of the Geneva-based Health On the Net Foundation. These principles have evolved from discussions with Webmasters and medical professionals in several countries. These principles are sound, but compliance is voluntary and some sites displaying the code contain unreliable information or link to other sites that contain unreliable information. To be certified by HON, a Web site must formally apply for registration. If accepted, it must subsequently comply with all the principles enumerated in the HONcode. When a noncompliant site is reported, HONcode officials ask that the logo be removed—and most sites comply. In July 2009, there were about 6,800 certified Web sites. You can confirm that a site is registered by clicking on the HONcode seal, which should be linked to a registration status report on the HON site.

The HON Foundation eviews Web sites and posts the reults of the reviews. However, its reviews of sites that provide unreliable information on "alternative" methods have been descriptive rather than critical—and thus offer little or no guidance to web browsers. Nor does its search engine limit its searches to reliable sites. HON officials are well aware of these problems and have indicated some interest in fixing them.

Principle 1

Any medical advice provided and hosted on this site will only be given by medically trained and qualified professionals unless a clear statement is made that a piece of advice offered is from a non-medically qualified individual/organization. [The vast majority of articles on NCAHF.org are written by or with the help of experts.]

Principle 2

The information provided on this site is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her existing physician. [Some of our information can enhance discussion with competent health professionals. However, articles about irrational practices may provide reason to seek care elsewhere.]

Principle 3

Confidentiality of data relating to individual patients and visitors to a medical Website, including their identity, is respected by this Website. The Website owners undertake to honor or exceed the legal requirements of medical information privacy that apply in the country and state where the Website and mirror sites are located. [NCAHF collects no electronic or personal data from visitors to our site. All e-mail messages are kept confidential, with one exception: Comments may be posted without revealing the identity of the sender.]

Principle 4

Where appropriate, information contained on this site will be supported by clear references to source data and, where possible, have specific HTML links to that data. [Whenever possible, our references are linked to their abstracts on PubMed, which enables browsers to quickly find related citations.]

Principle 5

Any claims relating to the benefits/performance of a specific treatment, commercial product, or service will be supported by appropriate, balanced evidence in the manner outlined in Principle 4 above. [The only products we market are publications. All income from the sale of these items is used to fight quackery.]

Principle 6

The designers of this Website will seek to provide information in the clearest possible manner and provide contact addresses for visitors that seek further information or support. [Contact information and the Webmaster's E-mail address are clearly displayed.]

Principle 7

Support for this Website will be clearly identified, including the identities of commercial and noncommercial organizations that have contributed funding, services, or material for the site. [These are noted in our Mission Statement.]

Principle 8

If advertising is a source of funding it will be clearly stated. A brief description of the advertising policy adopted by the Website owners will be displayed on the site. Advertising and other promotional material will be presented to viewers in a manner and context that facilitates differentiation between it and the original material created by the institution operating the site. [Any ads or sponsored links that we carry are clearly identified as such. Advertising has no influence on our content.]

Reporting Violations

HON asks members of the Net community who consider a Website displaying the HONcode logo to be blatantly violating any of these principles to notify the Webmaster/owner of that site by email with a copy to honcode@hon.ch. (If you see any, please also notify Dr. Barrett. HON states that if a violation is reported, the Health On the Net Foundation will ask the site owner to make appropriate modifications. HON also states if the modifications are not made, the site owner will be instructed to remove the logo and that failure to do so will result in "appropriate action." Most sites receiving such notices comply with them.

More about the HONcode

This article was revised on July 7, 2009.