A look at the healthcare industry
In this exploration, I am going to take a look at three health care websites to determine their business and user goals just from looking at the sites, and also by reading the “About” information.
According to the website, Remedy Health Media is a leading publisher that provides content, tools and real stories in an engaging way.
This news site is also targeted at the general population, specifically at the following user group:
- 50+ age group with chronic illnesses (all patient profiles I reviewed portrayed people of this group)
- Family members looking after the above
Visitors can research a health concern by searching based on symptoms or directly looking up illnesses. At first glance, the site offers information in these categories:
- Health A-Z
- Stories provided by others
- Ask a question (obtain advice by experts in user forums)
This site attempts to attract a large readership as its business model is ad revenue. Its unique hook is to provide emotionally engaging stories by people who suffer from a chronic disease. This type of storytelling encourages visitors to spend more time on the site. It’s not a quick search encyclopedia, instead, the content is presented in essay form. Targeted searches don’t appear to be part of the main business goals. Ads are prominently placed everywhere, but always related to health. They are contextual, for example, a patient story on rheumatoid arthritis has ads for drugs that treat that type of illness.
- Non-traditional structure without a menu strip at the top of the page
- The buttons to access the three main content categories are sprinkled across the home page, which makes navigation to these other sections challenging
- The lack of a clear hierarchy supports the business goal of encouraging the reader to stay longer and get drawn in to the personal stories.
The real value here are the stories and the ability to connect directly with an expert in the user forum. This is less of an encyclopedic listing of symptoms and illnesses. It’s more about people and how they cope with their disease. This site is closer related to WebMd than to Mayo Clinic as far as target use cases go.
According to Wikipedia, WebMD is a publisher of online news pertaining to health and well-being.
The news site is targeted at the general population. Visitors can research a health concern by searching based on symptoms or directly looking up illnesses. At first glance, the site offers information in these categories:
- Health A-Z
- Drugs & Supplements
- Healthy living
- News and Experts
The site has a classic menu strip where the above functions are easily accessible. In addition, there is a “Find a doctor” link which leads to a page that has additional options for finding a pharmacy and hospital.
WebMD caters towards gaining as large of a readership as possible. Its revenue steam comes from ads. For that reason, it also offers a few articles and news pieces on the home page that may attract the attention of many, such as an article on Hilary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s health status. Ads are prominently placed everywhere and often unrelated to health. I saw Academy of Art ads on multiple pages when visiting this site. I frequently visit the Acadamy of Art website and therefore was targeted that way her. Ads are placed everywhere and not well blended into the design. Instead they stick out and make the overall experience noisy and less authoritative. The objective to make money via ads conflicts with the goal to gain a large and loyal readership as readers may find these annoying. Surveys pop up on this site at a high frequency. I took one on blood glucose tests and hearing aids. I got another survey prompt shortly afterwards. This leads me to believe that they must get paid to run research for their clients via this site.
- Fairly straight to the point design, but wouldn’t call it clean due to too many ads
- No responsive design
- Content is king here, but ads have equal weight
Compared to Mayo Clinic, the site offers less diverse content overall, as it’s not a hospital with medical services. If we just consider just the lookup content that is available here, this site feels less authoritative due to the many unrelated ads, and I would trust it less than Mayo Clinic, which has a big brand name in the medical field.
According to Wikipedia, the Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit medical practice and medical research group.
The clinic’s website is targeted at the following users:
Patients (new and existing)
- What services Mayo Clinic offers
- How to become a patient
- Logging into the patient portal
- Looking up illnesses, symptoms and treatments
- Looking up doctors
- Learning how to live healthier
- Information for international patients
- Referral services
- Continuing education
- Look up research and clinical trials
- Search publications
- Learn more about research labs
Students (new, existing or past)
- Learn about educational programs
- Log into alumni services
- Giving back to Mayo Clinic
The home page has a classic menu strip where the above mentioned functions are easily accessible. The areas for the different user groups are clearly labeled and the submenus indicate what content is accessible in each section.
Mayo Clinic’s primary goal is to acquire more patients. This becomes clear by examining the rotating hero banners in the top section of the home page. There are four of these featured images and quotes, and they read as follows:
- Ranked #1 in the Nation (repeated)
- “A chance to beat something.” Tyson, patient
- “No other hospital could help me.” Elmo, patient
Partner ads are displayed in sub-pages, serving up relevant ads for new drugs and medications. These ads only support business goals and less the goals of the target users, as they are random. For example, if you look up acute sinusitis, it would be more interesting for the user to see a new sinus infection drug than an ad for healthcare plans for retired people.
The main functional objectives are indicated in the Target users section. In addition for providing clear access to those popular sections, there are additional functional objectives the site design accomplishes:
- Clean, modern, straight to the point design
- Responsive layout for cross-device consumption
- Content is king, minimal use of color, icons, images or illustrations
- Accent color is blue which is often considered to make users feel safe and is therefore frequently found in healthcare and in the financial sector
Users of this site appear to be served reasonably well as far as common use cases go. The site structure is efficient, and the Search function works very well across all content categories. No matter where you are, if you type in a search term related to an illness, such as “seasonal allergies”, you immediately get to a content page that has all the important sections on allergies for you. If you type in “medical school”, the first search result that you want to see as an aspiring new student is the home page for educational programs. The functional goal of the site is to make its content appear trustworthy.
So what if the business goal for one of the three described sites was to become more like one of the other two? How accomplishable would that goal be? All three sites are significantly different. Mayo Clinic is a large medical facility with a huge brand name and nationwide recognition. Mayo Clinic has no business need to become more like the other two sites that have different business models in that they are focused on news, and a more superficial form of education in the large content area of health. Mayo Clinic is visted by people who may suffer from a serious illness that they may want to get treated there. If visitors only go to Mayo Clinic to perform some casual health related research, the interaction model is quite different from that of WebMD. WebMD feels more like a general news-based website and sends less strong signals to the users regarding the trustworthiness of the content. If Mayo Clinic wanted to be more like that, they could put some news flash articles on their home page and add non-medical related advertising. That would immediately send different signals. I see no business reason for Mayo Clinic to venture into that area, though, unless they would be interested to further expand on their ad revenue stream.
If WebMD wanted to become more authoritative like Mayo Clinic, they would have to work on designing their ad placements in a more relevant way and hire medical professionals who could function as the experts behind the scenes. It would help to showcase those experts prominently on the site.
HealthCentral is targeted at the emotional aspect of supporting people with chronic diseases. If the other two sites wanted to support this use case, they would have to design a way to connect with patients at that personal level, through storytelling. It could be done in the form of text and content as HealthCentral does today or through customer interviews that could be made available as video stories. An interesting idea for Mayo Clinic would be to feature some of their patients in such an emotionally grabbing way as it could support their current goal of acquiring more patients.