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Healthcare on the Web: Defining Your Users by:

June 29th, 2011

As User Experience consultants, we spend a lot of time on extraordinary websites. There are two things we’ve noticed about these websites, first is that they belong to the most successful organizations in their industry, and second is their ability to deliver an engaging and valuable online experience across many diverse audiences. What’s clear is that they’ve taken the critical step of identifying their distinct audiences and immediately providing them with the pathways and specific calls to action that help them quickly locate the content they desire.

For Hospitals and Healthcare organizations, this “best practice” has special application. These organizations in particular serve a unique and diverse set of audiences. Understanding those groups, their needs, perceptions, and how they look for information, is essential to architecting a site that will serve each of them while maintaining brand integrity.

Architecting your website to serve distinct audiences results in tangible organizational ROI, such as:

  • Increased patient acquisition and patient referrals
  • Improved patient retention
  • Increased quality job applications
  • Increased media attention
  • Increased research funding

Every organization should evaluate their audiences and users independently through user research and requirements gathering. Most organizations have assumptions about their audiences, but user research often reveals surprising contradictions.

Our experience with a wide variety of healthcare organizations has revealed some common users and user needs that seem to span many organizations. This audience analysis is meant to serve as an example of the type of information you should gather on your users. Depending on your organization, it could also be a tool against which to validate your own audience groups and needs.

The first step is to determine who your users are, grouped by common goals and functions. Then you must rank how important these groups are to your organization – helping you prioritize what groups receive prime website real estate. Cataloging the unique needs of each group allows you to evaluate if each need is being logically addressed on your website. It is important to verify this with usability testing and analysis of website analytics as well.

Assigning importance to the function of each group:

Tier One: Critical Tier Two: Essential Tier Three: Operational
Audiences that have a critical or time sensitive need for information, who are also critical to the organization in terms of acquisition and patient care.  For them, the web is likely to be the front door to the organization and must prioritize content and tasks that meet their needs. Groups who are essential to the organization in terms of awareness and access.  For them, the website represents information and functionality they need to better understand and interact with the organization. The website must provide intuitive pathways for these audiences while not confusing critical audiences. The organization has a working relationship with these audiences and wants to provide targeted content for them.  These groups may visit the site less frequently or have an indirect need for information and services.

Creating a matrix of where users fall in their importance to your organization and your website:

Common Healthcare audiences and user needs:

Audience Type Patients/ Family Members (Including: potential, new, and current patients, primary care givers and concerned family and friends)
Function Critical for new patient acquisition and patient care
  • Select a facility based on care centers, areas of expertise, location, reputation
  • Identify admission steps, billing support, healthcare information, points of contact, patient services
  • Feel comfortable and familiar with the facility
  • Research disease centric information – prevention, treatments, clinical trials
  • Search for support groups
  • Access a patient portal if it exists
  • Make an appointment
  • Pay bills
  • Access online records
Audience Type Referring Professionals (Including: physicians, agencies and other institutions charged with patient referral)
Function Critical for new patient acquisition
  • Evaluate facility based on centers of excellence, areas of expertise, location, reputation
  • Access points of contact for referrals and contact details
  • Refer a patient
  • Access patient outcome information
  • Investigate and participate in training programs
Audience Type Health Professionals (Including: external health professionals, researchers, scientists, students)
Function Essential to research and educational institutions
  • Understand the Departments, Programs, Centers and Labs
  • Investigate areas of Research, Personnel, and Publications
  • Access Professional events and Conferences
  • Access clinical and scientific resources
Audience Type Job Seekers (Including: clinical and non-clinical candidates)
Function Essential to the acquisition of quality employees
  • Access information about local positions
  • Understand positive aspects of the hospital’s culture
  • Apply for employment opportunities
  • Understand where to go for an interview
Audience Type Community Members (Including: volunteers, donors, survivors, extended family and friends, general public)
Function Essential
  • Learn about the organization and its relationship to the community
  • Find points of contact
  • Investigate and participate in training programs
  • Volunteer
  • Donate
Audience Type Operational Community Members (Including: employees and dependents, alumni, suppliers and vendors, partners and affiliates, community educators)
Function Operational
  • Learn about the organization and its relationship to the community
  • Find points of contact
Audience Type Media/Press
Function Operational to the dissemination of important information and news
  • Media contact information
  • Hospital background and unique qualities
  • Leadership names and biographies
  • Local news release postings

Identifying user groups and user needs unique to your organization is only a step in the process to creating an optimized healthcare website. It is important to organize your content and calls to action with these user groups in mind, prioritizing those that are most critical to your organization. Creating visual and contextual clues helps your user self identify and access pathways to information particularly targeted to their needs. Your website is increasingly the first and most accessed gateway to your organization, making its impact on your organization’s bottom line ever more significant.

Tags: User Research, , , ,

November 2015
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