6 design hacks to improve hospital websites

Image of wireframe hospital website with top tasks

By Marjan Geerts and Kenneth Tits, UX Designers at Internet Architects

While working for a number of customers in the healthcare industry, we noticed that the websites of many Belgian hospitals showed serious flaws in their user interface (UX). And looking at those sites more closely, we discovered that many of them had identical UX issues, some of which can be explained by the nature of the organisation. Below, you will find both our diagnosis and a cure for those UX errors.

1. Designing the navigation according to the organisation structure

The navigation on the homepage of hospital websites has often been designed by someone who knows the organisation very well, but does not realize that it is a very complex matter for people on the outside. For the occasional visitor, the hospital’s departments, specialist’s offices, knowledge centres, etc. are very difficult to distinguish from each other. In order to create some logic in that jungle, the webmaster usually combines several units into one header, which results in something like “Specialisms, departments and centres”, which does not help the website’s visitor at all. To avoid this, it is better to look for clear, short labels which are more logical from an outsider’s perspective, such as “Consults” and “Surgery”, etc.

Do keep titles in your main navigation short and based on the visitor’s expectations

Don’t try to describe all individual items in the labels of your main navigation

2. Fighting for a spot on the homepage

It is not uncommon for large, complex organisations, and definitely the case for hospital websites: the fight for some room on the homepage. As a result, many hospitals have a website that is filled over the brim with items, logo’s, contact data, etc. This makes it very difficult for a visitor to establish what is important and what not. On the homepage, you will often find the general phone number together with the number of the emergency room, but without instructions on which number you should use in which case. Again, look at it from the outside, decide what the visitor needs quickly, and attribute most space to those items, moving all other items to an easy to navigate menu.

Do give more space to elements supporting the top tasks of your users

Don’t clutter the home page with elements supporting the minor tasks

Customer Carewords has developed an approach called Top Task Management to do just this. Internet Architects has been (the only Belgian) Customer Carewords partner since 2013. The founder, Gerry McGovern (internationally known as an expert when it comes to top tasks) has introduced the top tasks methodology, which is completely based on facts (not opinions). This approach aligns nicely with our vision on customer centricity.

3. VIP2 criteria

Every Flemish hospital has a list on its website with all its specialisms, all its treatments, and all the diseases for which it provides care. In most cases, this is a very long list and it’s in… alphabetical order. That is prescribed by the so-called VIP2 project (the “Indicatorenproject”), an initiative by the Flemish government and several healthcare organisations, including hospitals. Such an alphabetical list makes perfect sense for healthcare professionals, but for everybody else, it has very little use. Another way to categorize those items would make navigating the website a lot easier.

Do categorize specialisms based on user input

Don’t categorize a list with specialisms, treatments and illnesses in alphabetical order.

4. Too much information on the detail pages

If you are passionate about what you do, you want the whole world to know about it – and doctors are no different. That is why every specialist in a hospital has put together a massive page with tons of information on the diseases he or she deals with, the treatments that they offer, the medical research, etc. The trouble is that this is rarely a light read, and when the essence and less important parts cannot be separated, readers will wander off very soon. It would help if these pages were more concise, clearly structured, nicely illustrated and easy to navigate. However, feel free to elaborate on the technical content on underlying pages and link to it for users that want to dig deeper. Patients tend to crave more information about their illness and treatment than for instance a customer looking to buy a pair of socks.

Do keep your pages short, to improve readability.

Don’t put too much information about a specialism on one page.

5. No follow-up actions

Everybody uses Doctor Google nowadays – searching the web for information on the ailments we think we have. If such a search brings us to the detail page of a hospital website, that’s fine. One of a hospital’s responsibilities is to provide correct information to the public. But what happens if the visitor has found what he or she was looking for? Hospitals are rather negligent regarding the follow-up actions. More efforts should be made to try and convince the visitor to set up a meeting, place a call or even start a chat with a medical aid to make sure that that person gets the help that he or she needs.

Do add relevant follow-up actions on your detail pages.

Don’t let people leave your website without offering additional information about their specific disease.

6. Responsive

Only 37% of the university hospitals in Belgium and The Netherlands have a responsive website. All others do not adjust their contents adequately to the screen size of the user’s device, which is essential for a good user experience on a desktop, mobile phone or tablet. Which is important because more and more internet traffic is generated on mobile devices.

Making an existing website responsive is often not that difficult. Here at Internet architects, we make websites responsive using a very pragmatic approach: a hackaton, which is quite time and cost efficient. During such a hackathon we make sure that all content of a page is shifted to obtain a browsable page, that shows the most important content at the top of the page.

Do make your website responsive.

Don’t wait until a new website has to be designed to make your pages responsive.

Hospital websites are very important. Finding the right information on such a site quickly can literally be a matter of life and death. And in other cases, we rarely visit a hospital’s website for entertainment purposes – we are really looking for important information. That is why hospital websites should be designed with more attention to its visitors, taking into account their limited medical knowledge, their lack of patience, the stress they are already under, etc. With the six items of advice on this page, your website can be made a lot easier to navigate and to use.

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