In this paper, we discuss international policy in relation to the use of health websites and we describe the results obtained from application of a search engine to the recognition and classification of health websites in Italy. We then compare the results with health websites in other countries. Effective use of technology has led to medical advances that have not only extended life expectancy, but also fuelled an increasingly well-informed public to expect more and more from today's healthcare providers. As a consequence of the Web's rapid, chaotic growth, the resulting network of information lacks organization and structure and the quest for a method of quickly finding relevant and reliable information is spawning the growth of Internet portal sites. The US and the European Union and now Italy, have established the importance of rules to check the quality of health sites both for the non-professional users (citizens), mainly for privacy and security (for example, of medical records); and for health operators (physicians and others), where the most important thing is to evaluate the quality of content. In June 2001, the search engine used here found 2627 Italian health sites, of which only 46 exhibited the HON Code, and they can be classified into: 1% personal medical sites, 17% health portals, 18%, metasites, 27% documental sites and 37% information sites for health operators and/or for citizens.
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