Intermedic: Journal on Internet and Medicine
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Site of the Month

Health On the Net Foundation

Health On the Net is a non-profit foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland. It aims at the implementation of projects in the Internet which benefit the field of health. HON's board of directors and scientific consultants include many prominent personalities of Medical Informatics, such as Prof. Donald B. Lindberg (president of the US National Library of Medicine, and one of the foremost pioneers of Medical Informatics in the USA), Marion J. Ball (ex-president of the International Medical Informatics Association), Jan van Bemmel (editor-in-chief of the Information Methods in Medicine journal, and of the IMIA Yearbook, and one of the  "fathers" of Medical Informatics in Europe) e Jean-Raoul Scherrer (director of Informatics of the Hospital of the University of Geneva and ex-president of the MEDINFO'92 conference). The executive director of HON Foundation is Mark Selby. The foundation started in September 1995, during an international conference, The Use of the Internet and World Wide Web for Telematics in Healthcare", and its WWW site was launched in March 1996. After just one year of operation, the site was already a huge success, having reached 500.000 visits, and 2.000.000 visits by April 15, 1997.

HON homepage screen This site has the following information resources {See Screen 1]:

An interesting characteristic of this site is that the information contained in it can be accessed in different ways, according to the needs of specific groups of persons:


Although it is not the best catalog around (see the article Searching Medical Information on the Internet, in the current issue of Intermedic), HON has implemented a nice indexed database, which can be searched by using keywords, named MedHunt {See Screen 2]. Medically-related information on the Internet is automatically searched by a software robot called MARVIN (Multi-Agent Retrieval Vagabond on Information Networks). MARVIN is an "autonomous agent" which carries out searches in WWW sites and documents dealing with an specific subject or field. The database created by MARVIN for medicine and health is then indexed and searched by MedHunt. The HON Foundation created several specialized Hunts, such as 2DHunt (which deals with bidimensional electrophoresis research and applications), HONHunt (a search mechanism for the HON site) and ExPASyHunt (which indexes the Molecular Biology Server contents).

MedHunt's database has an interesting features, very much needed nowadays, due to the enormous volume of medical documents available in the Internet. The database is divided into two types of links:

A third database will contain in the future only those sites which were peer-reviewed, a procedure which is similar to that one used in the review and acceptance of papers in scientific journals.

In order to facilitate a MedHunt search by using pre-defined keywords, a thesaurus was assembled, containing more than 12,000 medical terms. This is the ideal way of avoiding synonims and variations, which are the "plague" of free-text searches. Another interesting section in MedHunt is a list of new sites added to the databases.

MedHunt's search form is reproduced below. Try to make a search, by entering keywords into the text box, and by pressing the Search button.

 Advanced Search

Display results in :

Ethics in the Internet

One of the most laudable initiatives by the HON Foundation is the creation of a code of ethics (HON Code of Conduct), with the aim of increasing the quality of medical information available in the Internet. This code has been supported by a large number of institutions, such as 44 medical insurance companies in more than 23 countries. A code is conduct is an extremely important thing for the medical Internet, due to the many concerns among health care professionals, as the cosnequence of the large number of aethical, fraudulent and incorrect data which are being disseminated on the Internet today.

The medical sites which wish to adhere to HON Code of Conduct must furnish proof that its principles are followed; and may display HON Code's seal in its homepages.

HON Foundation is to be congratulated on this excellent initiative, which he hope it will be followed in other countries as well. The Brazilian Virtual Hospital is seeking adherence to the HON Code of Conduct, with the support of the Brazilian Medical Association.

FAQs and Discussion Lists

This is one of the best resources available in the Health On the Net. It is a subset of its resource database,containing the addresses of three important sources of information on medicine and health:

Newsgroups: a system of distribution of messages called UseNet, categorized according to specific areas of interest. Each newsgroup receives a name derived from a hierarchy of standardized categories (for example, the newsgroup about AIDS is named In May 1997, this HON database had 367 medically-related newsgroups.

Discussion Lists: with similar aims, discussion lists are different from the newsgroups in the sense that they are distributed by email, by a program called listserv or listproc. In order to participate in a discussion list, the user is required to subscribe it via a simple procedure. In May 1997, the HON database of discussion lists had 410 items.

FAQs: these are documents in the form of questions and answers, about a restricted topic. HON's database listed 498 FAQs on medicine and health by May 1997.

Evaluation and Conclusions

This is a site with a very useful set of resources, which, although is not exhaustive, such as in Emory University's MedWeb, at least has an excellent potential to demonstrate pioneering projects of benefit and usefulness to the medical Internet in the future. There are several other ongoing projects by the HON Foundation, which are reported in its site, that we will not attempt to review in detail just now. One of them is the Global Hospital Project, with the objective of helping hospitals all around the world to access the Internet, by means of providing consultancy and training courses for their healthcare profssionals on the effective use of Internet. Another interesting project is Kids on the Internet, which aims at providing access to the Internet to children being treated in hospitals and pediatric wards, for the purpose of entertainment and education. Several other telemedicine projects, such as Video Care, are also under development at HON.

Although the HON site tends to transform itself into a mix of virtual hospital, electronic library, research center for new methodologies and image and database server, its current volume of information is still small when compared to its growth potential. The people and institutions which are involved with the project have the highest credentials possible at the international level, and seem to require a great volume of investment. The site has a very good navegability, and almost all of its pages has moderate to high degree of interest for the health professional and student. One of the site's high points is the reviewed database of Internet links. Another unique resource is the database on FAQs, discussion lists and newsgroups in medicine and health.

This is an interesting site to bookmark and to return frequently to.

Renato M.E. Sabbatini

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Published by:
Nucleo de Informatica Biomedica UNICAMP
The Center for Biomedical Informatics
State University of Campinas, Brazil
© 1997 Renato M.E. Sabbatini
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