Worries about the quality of health information on the Internet are not new. Several organizations, including Health Internet Ethics (HI-ethics) and the Internet Health Coalition, have proposed ethics standards for healthcare Web sites to
Worries about the quality of health information on the Internet are not new. Several organizations, including Health Internet Ethics (HI-ethics) and the Internet Health Coalition, have proposed ethics standards for healthcare Web sites to adopt and to follow.
The World Health Organization is the latest to join the call. The agency submitted a proposal for the dot-health top level domain (TLD) name to ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) earlier this month in an effort to regulate online healthcare. However, dot-health was not among the seven TLDs approved by ICANN in November.
"We are very optimistic that we can engage in a constructive dialogue with ICANN," said Dr. Michael Scholtz, special representative of WHO's director general. "The application hasn't gone through in the first run, and we're looking at how to move the application."
The organization originally proposed a healthcare-specific domain as a way to set and enforce a standard for healthcare-related information on the Internet. Only organizations adhering to certain quality and ethical standards would be eligible to dot-health their URLs. But the policies behind dot-health have yet to be established, according to Scholtz.
"Dot-health is supposed to be a specific quality seal," he said. "At this point, these policies and standards have not been formulated. The consultation process involving governments, content providers, and others will take a couple of months."
Even though ICANN has stopped short of rejecting dot-health, there is no set timeline for further evaluation of WHO's application. Scholtz acknowledges that dot-health is an ambitious move.
"The benefit to dot-health is that it's more enforceable," he said. "When giving the seal of approval to a site, we need to monitor that site. There is a lot of expertise around, such as the Health on the Net foundation. We're seeking expertise and support. WHO doesn't want to be the Internet police. We want to work to establish policies."
ICANN's role in the domain name award process has recently come under fire, largely due to the way the nonprofit has handled this round of applications. In addition, advocacy groups are becoming restless about the perceived U.S. lock on the Internet naming game. The U.S. Department of Commerce gave ICANN responsibility for overseeing online addresses two years ago.
© 2000 Miller Freeman Inc.
11/29/00, Issue # 117, page 2.