Health News Digest


November 30, 2015

Do No Cyber Harm: A Hippocratic Oath For Healthcare Websites

By Michael D. Shaw

As if there weren’t enough problems in contemporary healthcare to discuss, we shouldn’t forget about the online confusion and complexity that pervades healthcare-related websites. You might remember the utter catastrophe that was the launch of, for example. Among other things, it led to the resignation of HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Of course, was hardly a unique case, and became notorious mostly because so many people had to use it, and it was absurdly expensive to build. Still, far too many health and wellness sites—and this would include hospital and insurance portals—are too generic, too seemingly dispassionate, and too intimidating, for patients and consumers alike. Focus groups indicate that some users navigate them with anxiety and even fear. Which brings us to the notion of customer-centric website design.

Perhaps the earliest use of the term “customer-centric website design” goes back 15 years—ancient history in this field. As defined then by SOHO (small office/home office) expert Carole Pivarnik, such design produces a website that is centered around customer wants and needs. Recall that Web 2.0, whereby websites would become far more functional and interactive, was just beginning.

Pivarnik could rightly challenge site owners: Does your home page describe how customers will benefit from your content, your products, or your services? If they can’t figure out what’s in it for them, visitors aren’t likely to stick around. Is your site content clearly organized and easily navigable? She concluded her essay thus:

“Success is all about meeting a need better than anyone else. By focusing every element of your website on meeting customer needs, you’re much more likely to become and remain a preferred provider in the vast, competitive Web marketplace.”

Let’s fast forward to the present, and—a leading provider of web hosting; domain names; Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certification; servers, dedicated and virtual, search engine optimization, and related services. Rare among hosting companies, LCN publishes a blog, packed with practical tips.

As to customer-centric design, consider the comments of James, the Senior Content Specialist at LCN. In a posting entitled “Why Truly Responsive Design Must Be Customer-Centric,” he channels some of the early Web 2.0 controversy by admonishing website owners, as they obsess over how mobile-responsive their site may be, not to forget that it must first be customer-centric.

A few more observations…

1.     The biggest cliché in web design is “Content is king.” Yet, that doesn’t make this aphorism any less true. In healthcare especially, site visitors are searching for vital information, and this is one time that it surely is OK to educate the customer. No less an authority than David Ogilvy said that “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.”

2.     The bigger the site, the more egos might get in the way, and this can easily lead to bloated, difficult to navigate websites. Keep it simple, clear, and make the organizational hierarchy logical and intuitive.

3.     If the site is to be interactive—and most are these days—don’t bury the call to action. Such calls to action might jump-start the visitor’s interest in improving his health. Pro-active/preventive medicine…what a concept!

4.     Be fanatical about security. Medical identity theft is by far the worst form of identity theft. In today’s business climate, despite the preposterously worded terms of use that permeate the Internet demanding indemnity, a few big security breaches will likely sink a website.

5.     Be wary about outbound links. A classic search engine optimization short-cut was for sites to trade links. Regrettably, even outside of so-called “Black Hat” strategies, this can be troublesome. At the very least, dead links need to be updated or removed. But all links must be monitored on a regular basis, to assure that the content is still relevant and helpful to your visitors.

The healthcare industry is encouraged to embrace customer-centric design, and with it, the ascendancy of patient-centric medicine.