Frequently Asked Questions

About

What does The Information Standard hope to achieve?

The Information Standard has been developed to support people in using health and social care information and, in doing so, help them to make confident, informed decisions about their health and social care. The Information Standard mark will help people make these decisions in confidence, because it offers reassurance that health and social care information carrying the mark is from a reliable source.

Research has found that information available to the public varies greatly in terms of quality and accessibility. Information producers can use the standard to improve the way they develop their information, leading to an overall improvement in the quality of information available to people

What evidence do we have about the issue?

Research* has shown that

  • 71% of people check health and social care information is reliable before they use it
  • 75% of people would trust a website or a leaflet more if there was a quality mark on the information certifying it as trustworthy and reliable
  • 72 % of people would be better able to self manage their health or their family’s health if they had quick and easy access to health information they could trust
  • 84% of people would decline health advice if they weren’t sure the information was reliable

*Capita Group Research/Research Now Survey 2010
 

What is The Information Standard mark?

The Information Standard is a recognisable mark given to information producers who become certified. They are then given permission to display the mark on information materials that they state are in scope of their application, to demonstrate that it reaches the requirements of the standard. The mark conveys a sense of authority, reliability and trust, and assures people that a satisfactory performance regarding the process of providing the information has been achieved.

The mark is similar to other quality marks. The most recognisable of these is the British Standards Institute (BSI) Kitemark. The hope is that patients and the public will seek out information with The Information Standard mark in the same way as they decide to purchase products with the BSI kitemark.

What is The Information Standard?

The Information Standard is a certification scheme for health and social care information producers. It has been set up to help the public identify trusted sources of health and social care information. At the core of the scheme is the standard – a set of criteria that defines good quality health or social care information and the methods needed to produce it.

Organisations which produce health and social care information can apply to be certified. Certification involves assessing organisation’s information development policies and processes. The organisation states upon application which pieces of information they wish to be covered under the scheme. If their processes for the health information in the scope of their application meet the standard, the organisation is then entitled to place The Information Standard mark on the information material which was in scope.

This will enable people searching for health and social care information to identify the information material as coming from a reliable and trustworthy source.

When was The Information Standard launched?

The Information Standard was launched in November 2009.

Why was The Information Standard introduced?

Good quality health information is essential for patient involvement in healthcare. If people cannot obtain, understand and use reliable health information, they may not be able to look after themselves effectively, navigate the health system without difficulty, or make appropriate health choices for their own and their family’s health.

In a survey conducted prior to the launch of the Information Standard in March 2007, 77% of people said they had looked up some form of health or social care information. Three-quarters said it was difficult to work out whether or not the information was trustworthy, and almost nine out 10 felt some type of quality scheme would be a good idea to help them make these judgments.

The Information Standard was introduced to meet this requirement. Any organisation that produces health and social care information can apply to be certified. Those organisations that meet the stringent requirements become members of the information standard scheme, and can place the quality mark on the information materials in the scope of their application. This will mean that people searching for health and social care information can easily identify the organisation as one that is working to the highest standards to produce good quality health information, and that those pieces of information bearing the quality mark have had the processes checked and can be assured that they are from a reliable, trustworthy source. The Information Standard will help people to:

  • know what information they can trust
  • make effective decisions for themselves and their families

The ambition is that as public demand for good, reliable information grows, more organisations will join the scheme. As a result, information quality will improve, professionals will know what information to give to patients and service users, and the public will be more reassured.

General

Does the standard cover organisations providing holistic health or complementary medicine?

Yes. These organisations can apply to join the scheme on the same basis as any other information producers.  The scheme recognises the debate around the evidence-base for complementary interventions and these information producers will need to fairly reflect the best available evidence like any other members of the scheme. As an example, chiropractic would be one of the areas which would be considered.

How does the scheme differ from other certification schemes – such as NHS Evidence, Health on the Net, Plain English Campaign, etc?

There are a number of schemes that ‘certify’ health information. They include those that certificate websites only (e.g. Health on the Net), clinical guidelines (e.g. NHS Evidence) and accessibility/readability (e.g. Plain English Campaign).

The Information Standard complements, rather than competes with, these other schemes. Working together, they all have an important role in improving the quality of health and social care information.

How was the standard developed?

The standard specifies the processes that information producers must meet in order to become certified. It was developed with the help of information producers, patient organisations, academic researchers, and accreditation experts.

A draft standard was tested with 39 information producers from the public, private and voluntary sectors. This was then refined to produce a robust and workable standard. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) was also involved in this process.

Thanks to this engagement and development process, the standard has the endorsement of UKAS, stakeholders, partners and information producers.

The standard was signed off by a Strategy Board on which Department of Health had the largest representation.  It was further ratified by UKAS and the Executive Council at its first meeting. As of the 1st  April 2013 responsibility for The Information Standard has moved from Department of Health to NHS England.

What do you mean by information?

The Information Standard covers health and social care information designed for the public, not information written primarily for professionals. It includes both printed, electronic and scripted information.

What is the difference between the scheme, the standard and The Information Standard mark?

The scheme refers to the managing body; the standard details the requirements an applicant must meet; and The Information Standard quality mark is the symbol that certified information producers can use to show that their procedures conform to the standard.

Why can the public trust health information that has The Information Standard mark?

In order to gain certification (and therefore the entitlement to use the mark on their in-scope health and social care information), organisations must successfully demonstrate that their information production processes for the information in the scope of their application meet the stringent quality criteria of The Information Standard.

The assessment process is rigorous - and is carried out by independent certification bodies accredited by United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). Assessment process involves a detailed evaluation of the organisation’s information production process, including a site visit by the evaluator. In addition, a sample of materials is selected by the certification body for content checking, including an assessment of the accuracy and reliability of the clinical content carried out by independent experts in evidence-based medicine or social care regulations.

Certified organisations have demonstrated that they have the necessary methods and systems to ensure that the information within the scope of their certification is accessible, appropriately researched, authoritative, clear, complete, readable, relevant, secure, up-to-date and well-designed.

Why focus on processes rather than pieces of information?

In demonstrating compliance with the standard, organisations must produce evidence to show that they have followed a systematic process to develop their information. The assessment of their procedures is carried out by independent accredited certification bodies. As an added check, a sample of the information materials is assessed to ensure that the end-product is consistent with high quality processes.

Only those processes for the pieces of information in the scope of organisations application are checked.

Will the standard cover media organisations (television, radio, magazines and newspapers), or web portals such as Google or Yahoo, if they are ‘second hand’ providers of health and social care information developed by others?

No. The standard only covers organisations that are originators of health and social care information. Organisations that provide information produced by others are not eligible to join the scheme.

However, we believe that the media and other publishers will want to source the best quality information, so The Information Standard mark will be a valuable tool in helping them to identify this.

Information provider focused questions

Are there any specific rules for website usage of the quality mark?

Where the quality mark is used on the website, there must also be a disclaimer making clear that it applies to specific pages only and excludes user-generated information,  weblogs, forums and personal experience pages – except where these  have been produced through a systematic process of validation.

Websites must include the following statement about responsibility for the accuracy of the information:

‘We,[Organisation name], are responsible for the accuracy of the information on this website. Not all of the content on this website has been certified by the Information Standard as only the information which bears the Mark reaches the requirements of the standard. Neither the scheme operator, nor the Department of Health, who own the scheme, will have any responsibility for costs, losses or damages arising from the information being inaccurate or from us failing to include relevant information.’  

Does it cover private health and social care information producers?

Yes, the scheme is open to primary information producers of all types, including commercial information providers.

Users of information routinely access a range of information sources, both public and private. The scheme ensures that users can identify high quality information, whatever its source.

If not all the information certified members produce is covered by The Information Standard, how can the public tell what is and isn’t trustworthy?

Clear guidelines are issued to all certified members to ensure only certified information product carries The Information Standard quality mark.

The key message for the public is to look for the quality mark for confirmation of health and social care information which has come from a trustworthy source - if a leaflet or web page is 'out of scope' it must not display the quality mark.

Is it compulsory for information producers to apply for certification?

It is not compulsory to apply for certification. However, organisations that choose to go through the process will benefit in many ways. It will:

  • allow them to use the quality mark to show the public their information is coming from a reliable and trustworthy source
  • help them to assess and improve their internal processes, to ensure that they follow best practice
  • demonstrate their commitment to being a user-focused organisation
  • contribute to the wider objective of raising overall information standards
  • enhance their credibility and make them stand out from the competition
  • provide a platform where staff can feel pride in the information they  produce
  • demonstrate excellence, as well as their leadership and forward thinking

Applying for certification makes good business sense.
 

What are the rules for use of the quality mark?

The Information Standard quality mark can only be used by information producers that have been certified under the scheme, within the scope of certification agreed with their certification body.

The rules for use of the quality mark

The quality mark may be used on:

  • Individual information products (printed, online or scripted) produced or revised under the terms of The Information Standard using the information production system that has been certified.
  • Information about the information producer as an organisation – who they are, what they do.
  • On the following website pages: home page, ‘about us’ page and landing pages leading into health and social care information pages.
  • Awareness campaigns relating to health and/or social care information.
  • Banners or exhibition equipment for industry conferences.
  • Letterhead.
  • Vehicles.

The quality mark must not be used on:

  • Information products that are out of the agreed scope of certification.
  • Information products that have not been produced using the certified information production system.
  • Fundraising materials.
  • Commercial advertising materials or information about products for sale.
  • Awareness campaigns which do not relate to health and/or social care information.
     
What does the standard require information producers to do?

To gain certification, information producers must show that they meet the requirements of the standard, providing evidence that they:

  • have the policy commitment, procedures and management structures required to meet the aims of the standard
  • use systems and methods for producing information that ensure that:
    • there are clear aims for the information they provide
    • they understand and meet the needs of their audiences
    • they make use of the most appropriate sources of information/evidence
    • any conflict of interest is clear to the audience
    • they have the skills and resources needed to meet quality requirements, and for effective planning and management
  • have internal procedures to conduct effective monitoring and show how they meet the requirements for producing good quality information
  • have the ability to immediately correct any materials identified which are not meeting the criteria of the standard
     
What information is available to help information producers decide whether to apply?

To help information producers to decide whether to apply for certification, and whether they are ready, there are a number of supporting tools available.

  • Look at the information on the website to find out more about the scheme, the standard and how to apply
  • Use the gap analysis tool on the website to establish whether your organisation is ready to apply
  • Workshops are available to help you understand the requirements of the standard

In addition, certification bodies may offer a pre-assessment service. This can provide an informal opportunity to assess how your organisation shapes up against the standard and allow you to learn more about the certification and the application process.  It does not offer tailor-made solutions to individual organisations. Pre-assessment is an optional service for which certification bodies may make a charge and which will not be covered by subsidies offered by the scheme. More information about pre-assessment can be found on the certification bodies’ websites.

Where is The Information Standard mark used?

The mark is used by certified information producers on all health and social care information materials, in the scope of their application, which have been produced via the approved information production process.

Who are the certification bodies?

There are three certification bodies. They are:

  • EMQC
  • G4S
  • The Royal Society for Public Health

Information producers can choose which of these certification bodies they would like to apply to.

Who is eligible to apply?

The scheme is open to any organisation which produces health and/or social care information for the public. The one exception is that information included in medicines and pill packets is governed by another regulatory regime, and therefore is out of scope of the scheme.

If an organisation that is part of a parent company applies, the certification will only apply to that subsidiary, not the parent company as a whole or other subsidiaries of the same parent organisation.

Any organisation of any size that produces health and/or social care information which is intended for the public in England.

Who is running the scheme?

Health and social care information is produced by a wide range of organisations, such as charities, private companies and organisations from the public sector including local authorities and NHS organisations. In order to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, the scheme is being managed by an independent organisation, Capita, whose mandate is to manage the administration of the scheme in an impartial way.

The Executive Council, led by an independent chair and with representatives of NHS Evidence, Capita and other stakeholders such as lay members and clinical experts, oversee the independence of the scheme.

Who undertakes the assessments?

Three certification bodies carry out the assessments and offer certification against the standard. These bodies are specialists in carrying out such evaluations against standards. They are accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) which ensures they are competent to provide certification against the standard.

Processes and procedures

How does an organisation apply?

There are several ways for information producers to register their interest in the scheme. You can email, phone or register online.

The scheme operator supports all information producers through the process towards certification, including the provision of an online roadmap, guidance tools including a self-assessment tool, and training courses.

How long does it take to get certified?

The time taken to get certified varies according to the size and complexity of the organisation. The maximum amount of time is nine months, but most organisations accomplish it in considerably less time.

How long will certification last?

Certification lasts for three years, but two interim evaluations are required to ensure that the information producer is complying with the rules of the standard. Interim evaluations are less extensive than the initial evaluation. The first takes place within a maximum of 12 months after certification, and the second within the following 12 months.

Is there a set time from which all health related public facing content must be in-scope?

Following a review of the certification rules all organisations which have been certified since January 2010 have had all older in-scope materials assessed. The early adopters of the scheme which gained certification prior to January 2010, and complied with the previous rules, will now have 24 months from the end of 2010 to ensure that those older materials originally deemed out of scope now follow the appropriate processes to meet certification. We believe that these early adopter organisations are entitled to a reasonable amount of time to adhere to the revised rules.

Part of the application and assessment demands that information producers declare what information is out of scope. Does this mean that not all the information that certified members produce is certified by the standard?

Yes – The Information Standard only covers health and social care information within the agreed scope of certification.

To ensure clarity, only information which falls within the agreed scope of certification may carry the quality mark.

The Scheme Rules ensure that an information producer’s output – and all elements considered core to the scheme – are brought within the scope of certification and, in addition, that the scheme’s quality mark is associated with all the information types that the public would reasonably expect to be part of the scheme.

It works in a similar way to Fairtrade. All information 'products' that have been through the approved process can bear the quality mark - and in the same way, companies may use the Fairtrade mark on ethically-sourced products.

Use of the quality mark is monitored on an ongoing basis by the scheme operator and rules will be enforced where a misuse is identified.

What happens if the application is not successful?

If an application is not successful, the certification body will provide the reasons for the decision. The information producer can appeal against the decision if they wish. Alternatively, the organisation can address the issues raised, and then reapply for certification.

If an application is unsuccessful, the information producer must pay the certification body’s fee. Organisations whose application for certification is unsuccessful are not entitled to a fee subsidy.

What happens when an organisation gets certified?

If an application is successful, the organisation will receive a certificate that is valid for three years. They will also receive The Information Standard mark, which they can use on their in-scope products to show that they have been certified as a quality, trusted source of information.

What is the evaluation process?

The core of the certification process is evaluation, where the certification body assesses the organisation against the requirements of the standard. This involves:

  • Contacting the certification body to ask them to undertake an evaluation
  • The certification body then agrees the scope of the certification. This is important as only information produced that falls within the stated remit may achieve the Information Standard quality mark
  • Any materials produced by the information provider excluded from scope must also be identified
  • The certification body will then agree a date for the site visit
  • A sample of materials is selected for content checking, including an assessment of the accuracy and reliability of the clinical content carried out by independent experts in evidence-based medicine or social care regulations.
  • The certification decision is based upon the site evaluation findings and the results of the content check of the sample materials.
  • The scheme operator is notified of the outcome of the assessment and if this is satisfactory the organisation is placed on the register of certified members.
What is the procedure for application of a change of scope?

Information producers can request a change to their scope for The Information Standard by writing to their certification body at any time. The certification body will review the request and may agree the change to scope by correspondence or may require a re-visit by the evaluator before the change can be agreed.

What is the procedure for certification?

Once an organisation has decided to apply, they should:

  • Choose the independent certification body that they would like to work with. Information about the certification bodies is on the website here
  • Download the application form
  • Complete the form and arrange for it to be signed by an authorised signatory
  • Discuss with the independent certification body they have chosen which materials will be in-scope and which materials will remain out of scope
  • Check what information they must submit with their application inform and prepare everything specified by the certification body
  • Send the signed form and the accompanying information required to the certification body they have chosen.

When the certification body has received the application, they will draw up a formal agreement with them. This will cover issues such as the duration, location and expected cost of certification.

What is the procedure for complaints?

All complaints are initially routed through the scheme operator. Full contact details are provided in the ‘contact us’ section of the scheme website.

Complaints can be made via email using the feedback form provided, by phone using the helpline, or via the post.

On receipt of a complaint, the scheme operator will:

  1. Record the complaint and all associated actions
  2. Allocate the complaint to the appropriate party either the independent certification body, the Executive Council or the scheme operator for resolution
  3. Investigate further and escalate if the complainant feels their complaint has not been resolved satisfactorily.

(See 5.1.6 of Scheme Rules for full details on the Complaints process)
 

Working with the standard

Can a certified member have their membership to the scheme revoked?

Yes, the certification bodies can withdraw certification if they find that a member no longer complies with the requirements.  This could be as a result of regular scheduled surveillance assessments or following a complaint.

How will it be policed?

Scheme governance

The Executive Council, led by an independent chair and including representatives of the NHS England, voluntary organisations and clinical experts, oversees the scheme. They maintain a watching brief on the application of the standard, agree and monitor strategy, investigate  any perceived or real conflicts of interest and defend the reputation of the standard and brand. Where necessary the Council seeks advice on clinical matters from the NHS England’s Clinical Information Advisory Group (CIAG), which also provides support to NHS Choices.

Use of the quality mark

There are strict rules governing use of the quality mark and the certification bodies and the scheme operator share responsibility for enforcing these rules:

Certification bodies: will inform information producers, on certification, about the rules on the use of the quality mark and the need to comply with them. They will also monitor use of the quality mark at the annual surveillance evaluations.

The scheme operator: provides a quality mark tutorial (downloadable from the website), issues quality mark rules with the members’ packs and monitors members’ usage of the quality mark on an ongoing basis. There is also a ‘report misuse’ form on the website to help people report any concerns to the scheme operator as easily as possible.

Where a breach of the rules governing the use of the quality mark is identified, the scheme operator will:

  1. issue an enforcement notice, according to the terms of the scheme owner’s licensing agreement.
  2. amend an information producer’s entry on the register as needed, whilst a misuse of the quality mark is investigated and resolved
     
If a certified member is found to be producing inaccurate information, what is the procedure?

Anyone concerned that a member is producing inaccurate information should contact the member directly since they are required to take appropriate action based on feedback they receive.  Procedures are in place for this to be escalated as a complaint. If, following investigation, the complaint is upheld, certification could be suspended or ultimately withdrawn

If an organisation is accredited does that mean all the information they provide is reliable and meets the requirements of The Information Standard?

Not always. There may be some exceptions such as user generated content which is not controlled by the information producer. To ensure clarity, only information which falls within the agreed scope of certification may carry the quality mark.

It works in a similar way to Fairtrade. All information 'products' that have been through the approved process can bear the quality mark - and in the same way, companies may use the Fairtrade mark on certain ethically-sourced products, but it does not mean all their products are ethically sourced.

Use of the quality mark is monitored on an ongoing basis by the scheme operator and rules will be enforced where a misuse is identified.

Once an information provider has been certified, are they monitored to ensure that they are still adhering to the standard?

Yes. Information producers are certified for a three year period, but they are subject to an annual surveillance evaluation by the certification body to ensure they remain compliant.

Surveillance evaluations will involve an on-site evaluation meeting and includes a review of the information producer’s use of the quality mark to ensure that usage remains in compliance with the rules.

Surveillance evaluations will include an assessment of:

  • management arrangements
  • self-audit of procedures
  • the schedule of information products
  • the use of the quality mark
  • any complaints received.

The certification bodies will decide where a further sample of materials needs to be assessed during the annual surveillance evaluation. This will always be required if there has been an application for change of scope.

Further monitoring is provided by way of the complaints process. In certain circumstances this may result in certification being suspended pending investigation - or ultimately withdrawn.

What if an organisation changes its procedures after certification?

Information producers are required to inform the certification body if there are any significant changes to their systems and processes, company policy or management arrangements for producing information materials.

Who is responsible for revoking membership?

The independent certification body that originally assessed and certified the organisation.