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Focus your hospital website on patient priorities

Posted Dec 08 2011 8:48am

by Kent Bottles

Everyone who is running a hospital is confused. This is not a bad thing; this is a good thing. One of my favorite Tom Peters quotes is "If you're not confused, you're not paying attention."

If you have been paying attention, then you are aware that a lot of change is happening in the healthcare environment. When things are this chaotic, it is always wise to go back to first principles. Leaders should do four things: 1. Assess the environment and create a mission that inspires, 2. Translate the mission into strategies and tactics, 3. Assign the strategies and tactics to capable people, 4. Hold them accountable for measurable results.

I am worried that hospital leaders are missing an important trend when they do their environmental assessments: mobile. Hospitals have not exactly been early adopters when it comes to website design and social media tools, and I fear they will make the same mistake when it comes to their mobile presence.

What task do people want to accomplish when they come to your hospital website? Even though the letter from the CEO is prominently featured on most sites, I doubt many of your patients go online to read the brilliant letters from hospital leaders that all sound alike.

What does your website look like when you try to access it on your iPhone or Android smartphone? From my unscientific review of 20 hospital websites, it is nearly impossible to accomplish any task by pulling up a hospital website on a smartphone. The print is too small, and it is hard to navigate around the site.

What should you do? You should figure out what are the four most important tasks that your patients are trying to accomplish when visiting you online. In order to identify these "top tasks," you and your IT and marketing departments will have to give up control. You will have to ask your customers what is important to them. And their answers will not be what you and your leadership team predict. When the City of Liverpool asked its citizens what tasks they found most important, the top answer was a total surprise: They wanted information about trash collection and recycling. My guess is patients will identify where to park as a top task; but you should ask them, not some consultant like me.

After you have identified your "top tasks," make sure they appear on the first screen that pops up when someone goes to your site via their smartphones. They should be able to accomplish their task by clicking on at most two links from the first page that appears.

Internet guru Gerry McGovern has written, "How much of your content is dead and useless junk that impedes navigation and search results?" Bob Johnson, an expert who consults with North American universities, believes you should consider deleting information from your website that will not fit on a mobile device. He also recommends a U.S. government website that I have found extremely useful.

Mobile is a killer app that will transform healthcare. The sales of tablet devices and smartphones have stunned all observers; healthcare will more and more be delivered to patients whenever they are with their smartphones. Care will continue to migrate out of the hospital and into the community. What will people in your community encounter when they try to access information about your hospital system: print too small to read or a list of four tasks they find relevant?

Dr. Kent Bottles is a Senior Fellow at the Thomas Jefferson University School of Population Health and Chief Medical Officer at Verilogue/CareCoach.com. He is frequently called upon to give keynotes and write articles about healthcare reform, the future of medicine, and disruptive technologies.

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