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e-health ethics summit releases code

Computerworld

February 22, 2000
Web posted at: 9:05 a.m. EST (1405 GMT)

(IDG) -- As the federal government moves to investigate Internet health care sites for possible privacy violations, a nonprofit group released a proposed code of ethics that could change the way online medical companies do business.

The voluntary code of conduct drafted by the e-Health Ethics Summit would set strict standards for the way health sites gather and use personal information. Online medical companies would have to disclosure "any relationship, financial or other, that a reasonable person would believe might influence the user's perception of the information, products, or services offered."

The e-Health Ethics Summit is a coalition of nonprofit and commercial groups sponsored by the Internet Healthcare Coalition. The Summit met in Washington earlier this month to draft an international ethics code for the online health care industry.

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Among other things, the code would require Internet health care sites to obtain "informed consent" before collecting personal information, and allow individuals to track precisely how that information is used.

"To make prudent decisions about whether to provide personal information online, especially information about their health status," the draft code states, "people need to know what information is being gathered and why."

Internet medical companies that offer health care information would have to give their editors the right to decide what kind of advertising is accepted, and the authority to reject ads that did not meet ethical standards. The code would also prohibit the practice of selling keywords.

The ethics code also sets standards for the practice of medicine on the Internet, requiring doctors, nurses and other health care workers to "disclose any sponsorships, financial incentives, or other information that might affect the professional's role or the services offered."

"Some people's business models are going to be affected," said Mediconsult.com President Ian Sutcliffe during the drafting of the code.

After eight weeks of public comment, the Summit will publish a final version of the code. The Summit's work parallels an effort by a group of commercial Internet health companies to develop their own code of conduct.

The timing is propitious. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating health information sites such as HealthCentral and iVillage to determine if they have violated their privacy policies or shared users' personal information with third parties.



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