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Planning for a new Health System, Hospital or Clinical Practice Website

What you need to know before you get started.
February 3, 2016
health Care Office
When your website barely supports your business needs and your customers hate using it, everyone loses. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
About a year ago, I led a large health care network through an overhaul of its web presence, which included redesigning and optimizing nearly 100 hospital, physician and program websites. So, I know a thing or two about planning a website.
Regardless of whether you are redesigning a website or just looking for ways to optimize it to improve the experience for consumers and internal stakeholders, here are the five things you need to consider:

1. Pick the right CMS based on your team’s skills 

Look at your web team. Are they developers or are they communications professionals who are more comfortable writing a press release than editing HTML code? The answer to that question dictates what type of CMS to invest in.

Picking the most whizzbang CMS means nothing if no one can use it. Don’t fall into the trap that most people get themselves into: expecting that people who know nothing about coding can learn to code. Either pick a CMS that is commensurate with your team’s skills or make a decision to hire more technically inclined people to support the new CMS.
And do not take at face value what the salespeople tell you. I have seen numerous organizations get sucked in by a slick demo, only to find that once the CMS is deployed, they have to hire an expert specially trained to use it.
Don’t only talk to the references salespeople provide you. Do your research and find comparable health care providers or health systems who use the CMS you’re thinking about. Call them. Read reviews and discussion forums to get the real scoop on what it is like to live with the CMS day-to-day. The investment of time will be well worth it if it keeps you from buying the wrong system.
And finally, use a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach to vet your options. It sounds like a real downer way to approach an exciting new project, but I believe it’s necessary when evaluating technology. It makes it a lot harder to explain away shortfalls and helps you identify all the areas of opportunity and concern.

2. Think about customer journeys 

Remember that a patient isn’t always a patient. Your website experience needs to serve patients and health care consumers alike, and help them to complete the actions they want to take.

Those actions, and the process that someone takes to complete one, is a consumer journey.
There are dozens of consumer journeys that any one visitor might need to take (e.g., research quality ratings, pay a bill, login to the portal to get medical documents, search for a job). Your job is to identify each journey and build a frictionless experience that helps each visitor complete an action in the least amount of steps as possible. 
Sit in a room with a cross-functional team and brainstorm all of the different consumer needs and map each journey. Document them. Now you’ll have a reference document that you can check against during each step in the development process to make sure that the design, content or experience works and meets consumers’ needs.
After you map out the journeys you may notice that there is a lot of different content types and functionality you will need.
For example, you might notice that content is needed for visitors who are not yet patients and are evaluating whether to seek care at your practices and/or hospital(s). Does that warrant including third-party reviews or web-based forms for consumers to request more information?
It might be that by mapping those journeys you’ll realize you have some health care consumers who just want to engage you when they’re not focused on sick care and want to learn more about how to get or stay healthy. What planning have you done to help them?

3. Plan for multi-location and dynamic content

This is critically important If you work for a multi-unit health system or practice. Physicians change practice locations. They regularly gain and lose credentials at facilities. Practices move.

Every small change like this can set off a litany of time-consuming website updates if this content is not dynamic and managed from one central database. You cannot imagine how much time your team will waste if they have to manually search out and update this content across all of your websites.
One of the best decisions you can make is to find a content management system that supports a content database that is dynamic (e.g., when you make a change to a practice location in the database, that change gets pushed down to all instances across each website).
Additionally, multi-unit practices and hospital networks often have global content that appears across all of the organization’s websites (e.g., patient forms, privacy policies). Having one place to manage and push all of this content to your other websites is a real time-saver and ensures that your consumers always have the most up-to-date content.

4. Build custom workflows for content review and approval

There are few industries as regulated as health care. Every word matters, which is why you need a content management system that supports and facilitates efficient content review and approval.

Most CMSs now come with a content review protocol or workflow. Look for a CMS that doesn’t force you into a one-size-fits-all content review process. 
For example, a good portion of your website content can be posted without much oversight. The approval workflow for that content should reflect that. Clinical information certainly requires more oversight and should therefore have a more robust protocol that includes a clinical director and legal, amongst others.
There are two ways your content management system can help you in this regard. It should either allow you to set content review workflows based on user type (e.g., low-level marketing people might need a more robust workflow), or by content type (e.g., billing pages have a billing workflow and clinical pages have a clinical workflow).
Workflows based on user-roles are often less effective than content-based workflows. Either way, it is necessity that you build in some kind of protocol.

 5. Plan for multi-langauge

I cannot believe how few health providers’ systems and practices provide information in a language other than English. This is particularly important in states where there is a large Spanish-speaking population. However, here in Colorado — a state whose Hispanic population puts is in the top ten of all U.S. states — not a single major health care provider offers its content in Spanish.

I don’t think it’s because they believe it’s not important. I believe they don’t do it because of the amount of work they believe it requires.
Certainly, it will require more time than if your website is provided in only one language. But the benefit – particularly being able to court a large portion of the population who is not currently served, as well as the goodwill that builds brand loyalty and affinity – is worth the effort. (Imagine the positive impact on market share by being the first provider in your region to effectively communicate with Hispanics.)
There are a few different options you can take to support a multi-language website, and each has its own pros and cons:
Manual translation and manual editing of content 
  • Pros: Guaranteed high-quality content  
  • Cons: Extremely labor intensive; pricey

Hybrid translation and automatic editing of content 

  • Pros: Focus only on proofing and copyediting; saving time and effort
  • Cons: Content might not be as perfect as having manually written it all

Automatic translation and automatic editing of content 

  • Pros: cheapest of all options and least amount of effort
  • Cons: Content is going to be poorly written and full of errors (translation services still haven’t caught up to the real thing); might actually hurt instead of help

Communications and marketing teams always undervalue multi-language, and therefore always insufficiently budget for it. Assuming that is the case within your organization, the second option is your best bet.

Bonus: Communicate to Stakeholders! 

No matter what, you must communicate to your internal stakeholders. A website redesign will impact every single major department within your organization – billing, finance, patient experience, service lines, etc.
You must proactively communicate updates to designated representatives for each department and provide ample opportunity for them to prepare for the changeover. If you haven’t already planned a full-blown internal communications campaign to keep stakeholders up to day, seriously reconsider that decision!

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