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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Fair and Balanced

Health information on the Web moves toward accreditation

The American Accreditation HealthCare Commission forms committee to look at standards for accrediting online health-related sites.

By John Russo Jr./

VICUS.COM (28 Oct. 2000) -- The American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (also known as URAC), a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1990 to establish standards for the managed-care industry, has formed an advisory committee to develop standards for accrediting health-care websites (URAC, 2000). They are not the first and will probably not be the last word on this subject (Marwick, 2000).

However, URAC is experienced in the credentialing process. Since 1991, it has issued more than 1,600 accreditation certificates to more than 300 organizations that provide managed-care services to more than 120 million Americans, according to the organization.

As part of its initial efforts, URAC has appointed 27 members of its Health website Advisory Committee panel to look at issues ranging from privacy and professionalism to candor and accountability (click here for details). URAC has brought together representatives from a variety of organizations that have developed ethical or quality guidelines for health websites, including the Internet Healthcare Coalition, HI-Ethics, the American Association of Health Plans and the American Medical Association. 

A personal view

Click here to read John Russo's article about his four simple standards for assessing medical information on the Internet.

The committee will meet over the course of the next few months to develop a draft set of health-Web-site accreditation standards, according to a URAC press release. Once a draft is completed, it will be released for public review and comment. In addition, URAC will test the draft standards on several websites to ensure that its ideas are practical and verifiable. 

URAC officials hope to finalize a set of standards in spring 2001, with implementation of the accreditation program to follow later in the year.

Commentary: The challenge ahead

The challenge for URAC goes beyond credentialing. It should develop criteria that will foster what is best about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) on the Internet.

websites that promote alternatives must focus on issues of safety and efficacy, as well as the role and evidence for CAM therapies in relation to other treatments. Model complementary therapies should show a degree of improvement that fosters enhanced wellness and quality of life.

The fact is that the future of health care is not in the mechanistic approach to treating disease that has been dominated by allopathic medicine for the past century. Rather, it is in a more long-term, comprehensive approach to health and living that encourages a complementary mix of the best of holistic and allopathic therapies.

My hope is that as URAC and others develop standards for accrediting health websites, they will find ways to embrace the holistic contributions of CAM and not become lost in a mechanistic maze of dos and don'ts.

John Russo Jr., PharmD, is senior vice president of medical communications at He is a pharmacist and medical writer with more than 20 years of experience in medical education.



American Accreditation HealthCare Commission:

American Accreditation HealthCare Commission. URAC Appoints Members of Health website Advisory Committee. 2000 Sept 28:

Marwick C. Ensuring ethical Internet information. JAMA. 2000 Apr 5; 283(13):1677-8.