The hospital website is coming under attack and for good reason. An August 22 post from HealthLeader’s Media talks about judgment day, with an ever-increasing focus on the quality and relevance of the content. And many blogs discuss the copy and design challenges that make it hard for patients to get useful information. But what information is useful? The challenge hospital websites face is that they must be all things to all people. They must inform and educate patients, families and communities; they must balance the perspectives of vocal and opinionated physicians and nurses; they must appease payers and administrators; they must allure the best and the brightest medical professionals. On top of all this, they now must demonstrate quality and transparency in a rapidly changing, highly complex industry where the smallest decision can save a life— or alter it forever, and not always with a favorable outcome. With all of this riding on a single website, no wonder hospital websites struggle to be clear, useful and relevant.
So how do hospitals meet the needs of all these stakeholders and still look better than the hospital down the street? (And even if you are the only hospital in town, in a non-emergency, people will drive to the next one if they think your facility is anything less than excellent.) Recently I was interviewing a number of non-clinical hospital employees for a video project. These were the people most patients never see, like clinic managers and IT support and pharmacy managers. When asked about their jobs, they all said the same thing: when faced with a tough decision they ask themselves, what will benefit the patient most? One of them said, “As soon as I ask myself, what’s best for the patient, the complexity falls away and the decision becomes very clear.”
This is the same question hospitals need to ask when creating their websites. What is best for the patient? That is what the content should reflect. Because the reality is, patients don’t know what they need until they need it. A hybrid operating room is nirvana to a cardiologist, but it means nothing to the patient unless they are having a cardiac episode and then they are in no condition to choose. The DaVinci surgical system means nothing until a physician says to a patient, “Based on your condition, I think DaVinci is the best option for you.” That’s when patients want to know about this minimally invasive technology. Patients want to know when it’s relevant to them, which is the same across the Web, even for non-medical sites. Cluttering your home page with “patients need to know” isn’t helpful.
Keep it to the simplest, most basic patient needs: where, what and how. Where are you located? What are the hours? How do I get there? Where, what and how answer a myriad of patient questions, from finding a specialist to classes and support groups. Keeping it simple also means you’ll meet health literacy needs. Remember, it’s hard to do anything when someone doesn’t feel well, so don’t force people looking for resources to weave through a complex site.
Are patients going to want to know about quality? Yes, especially if they are researching a planned procedure. As patients become better educated, they will want to know where you stand. Any relevant quality data, awards or lists where your hospital ranks highly should be front and center. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has a booklet on Choosing a Hospital, with a Hospital Compare Web tool, where patients can check the results of patient surveys and quality measures. Having this information on your website makes it easy for patients to find quality data at the source, and adds to your credibility and transparency.
Hospital websites have a challenging job, meeting the needs of all their stakeholders. But if the focus remains on what matters to the patient, clarity falls into place and the hierarchy of content can find its home. After all, the patient experience starts with your website.