How patient-friendly are the websites of health care providers?


Although everyone agrees on putting the “patient at the centre”, the websites of health care providers are very often self-referential and not very patient-oriented.

Sites layout often reflects the organisation of the healthcare facility, which is not always understandable to the patient. Sometimes the menus are divided between services and wards, departments and operating units, sometimes divided between simple and complex units.

These are all intuitive differences for a practitioner, much less so for patients. Even the names of the services and departments are not always clear. Patients with suspicion or diabetes should seek advice from the anti-diabetic centre, endocrinology or internal medicine services or departments, as appropriate. If the former is easily associated with the disease, the latter and third parties much less for a patient who is unfamiliar with medicine.

In the case of local health agencies that also provide territorial services, the confusion is even greater. The organization in districts, centres, clinics, services, counselling, just to name a few, is often not intuitive and difficult to interpret for an average patient.

Besides, the choice of which information to put on the home page and which evidence to assign them is often arbitrary. Many news is more the result of the desire to satisfy the ego of the management and staff of the health care company than to usefully inform the patient. Information and content are often poorly indexed, and the search often does not return what the patient was looking for.

  • The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that these sites are designed and conceived by people of the health company who, because of their knowledge of the organization and its operating, are not representative of the skills and needs of a typical patient.
    The navigation of these sites should be based on patients’ needs, i.e. a health problem, a task to be performed, the search for information. Starting from these, the site should indicate:
  • What services the healthcare company is able to offer (visits, examinations, …)
  • How I can access them (I need the recipe, I have to book, …)
  • Where the services are carried out
  • How much they cost
  • How long I shall wait
  • What I have to do first (preparation, things to avoid, …)
  • Information about the pathology, the examination, the procedure to follow, …)

All using a vocabulary and language as close as possible to the average culture of the patient. The navigation of the site should, therefore, be finalized and guided according to the needs of the patient, without pretending that the patient himself go and look for this information, maybe accessing more functions in sequence.

Almost never, then, do the websites of the health authorities ask the patient questions to understand if the information provided has been useful, the navigation simple, the content clear and understandable.

Yet we are talking about techniques and methodologies that in other areas are the norm and where there is nothing to invent. Culture and user orientation are values that, in health care, are unfortunately still not widespread. Despite the fact that there is no conference, article or speech that does not state that the goal is “to put the patient at the centre”.

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