The past few years have brought some major changes to the healthcare market. Plus, the Affordable Care Act is dramatically shifting us to a value-based system and is also ushering in a new era of hospital website design.
If the site healthcare.gov showed us one thing, it’s that design and usability are paramount. While the site looks nice, consumers continue to complain about how difficult it is to use.
Gone are the days when people were willing to spend all day searching for information on a website or waiting for it to work. Things such as bad navigation, too many distractions (buttons, ads, etc.), load time, bad content structure, and poor design all play into a bad user experience (UX).
UX design is a broad field that encompasses all interactions that the user experiences on your website. This includes visual design, usability, information hierarchy, typography, and more. A great UX can help convey trust, competence, security, and reliability. Nearly half of all consumers assess the credibility of sites based on the overall visual design and usability, including layout, typography, font size, and color.
It seems that the healthcare industry has been one of the last to accept this fact and is now quickly trying to catch up. For years, hospital websites have been information-heavy and poorly designed. The politics and bureaucracy of the hospital system end up with every department wanting an equal space on the home page. This results in a cluttered mess that makes it almost impossible to navigate. While having equal space for everyone might make department heads happy, it ultimately fails the end user.
Who are we designing for?
The first question we have to ask ourselves when designing anything is “Who is the target audience?” In the case of hospitals, we need to make sure we take a patient-centric approach that allows consumers to easily find the information they need. If people cannot find what they want readily, all other factors being equal, they will go elsewhere.
At Doctor.com, we conduct a thorough examination of all aspects of a site before beginning a new design. This starts with an in-depth review of the target demographics including age, gender, and income. Knowing who is accessing the site helps to craft a much more personalized experience for the end user.
The next step is to determine what the user is searching for on your site. While some elements are obvious like your physician directory and contact information, others may be less obvious. Use detailed analytics reports to help determine the behavior of visitors once they hit your site.
Don’t have visitors trying to find the content they are looking for; instead, group similar content in a clear and concise manner. A good way to do this is to take a “Mobile First” approach. With the limited real estate of mobile devices, you have to be more selective about the information you present.
Starting with your mobile design and using your analytics data, pick the top things that your patients are looking for and only include those. As the device’s screen size increases, you can slowly start adding in more information grouped around these sections.
KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
Long registration and search forms are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The more time and effort users have to devote to a task online, the more likely they are to give up.
Simplify web registration forms and move to a faceted search for your physician directory. Faceted searching allows the consumer to refine searches dynamically with layered navigation and to narrow down a search by parameters such as specialty, gender, or specific keywords. Faceted search is intended to be more dynamic, more interactive, and more in tune with the ways that people think and navigate websites.
With mobile and tablet use now exceeding desktop usage, not having a responsive design makes less and less sense. Responsive web design is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience — easy reading and navigation with minimum resizing, panning, and scrolling — across a wide range of devices.
You can’t just take an existing site, make it responsive, and still expect a great user experience though. A great responsive design takes into account all of the topics covered in this article, truly taking advantage of great research, information hierarchy, and visual design.
With this New Renaissance in hospital design occurring, keep in mind the special relationship patients have with their physician or hospital. Many times your website is the first impression that these people will get. Whether they are looking for directions, signing up for their first childbirth class, or trying to find a cancer specialist, the user experience and site design are some of the most important parts of your digital welcome.