The following list summarizes some of the essential project planning elements for any healthcare related website, be it a major metropolitan hospital or a local medical clinic website. We have assembled 6 key facets that are specific to our approach in planning these types of projects. This article will act as a guide when dealing with common needs and goals for your healthcare organization’s website design and development.
In the initial planning stage, begin with gathering and collecting your current website’s existing web statistics for trends and content popularity. With this information, you can then examine and evaluate what content is effective and popular amongst your users. The results will assist in the strategy with developing the site structure and taxonomy.
Understanding your website statistics and user activity combined with your organization’s and users goals and objectives will establish a new and effective menu structure and hierarchy. Departments and stakeholders within the organization may also contribute their input to the content and menu’s hierarchal structure. For example, every department, which could be 20 or more, may request to be featured on the home page. This could then lead to a clutter of content with a lack of focus. Therefore, the overall vision of the content structure with these types of considerations in mind must be carefully planned out prior to the design stage. Draft up wireframes to outline the navigational flow before creating a design to assist with layout restrictions and content location.
Interactive content on websites is becoming the preferred way to inform and educate visitors, by presenting everything from the latest news to instructional videos. During the planning phase, understanding how your content will be incorporated into the design, whether it needs to be featured graphically, as a separate section dedicated to specifically videos and multimedia, or creating a dynamic news feed, is another facet to consider.
When considering design, a clean and clear Web 2.0 interface is the best solution in handling the rich and in-depth content that healthcare sites present and maintain. Some of the best practices for Healthcare related websites are a professional and customized design that contains consistent, seamless and intuitive navigation. The design characteristics of a Web 2.0 website are that the design focus is on the content rather than the template and the peripheral parts of the page. This approach will avoid a frilly over designed webpage while keeping the goals and objectives of the organization on track.
What is also important to consider within the design stage is the immediate or probability of the site to expand into the creation of micro-sites on demand. Micro-sites are now widely used for distinct departments, promotions and special events within healthcare organizations. Therefore, the template design should be flexible enough to accommodate this need. For example, the Foundation department of a hospital will have its own logo but should, in most cases, retain the overall corporate branding. The template will then be similar, but the Foundation department will have its own unique site architecture.
An absolute must that lies beneath any healthcare site is a secure, feature rich content management engine (CMS). We approach hospitals with enterprise type CMS solution to best facilitate any immediate and future requirements. A competent CMS will be well equipped to manage interactive content like medical blogs, patient satisfaction surveys and visitor polling, public relations news, and a variety of rich media content. It is also a good idea to build a website using a CMS that is extensible and modularized for any modifications or additions that you may want to add later on without impacting the codes core engine.
Features and functions of healthcare related websites:
• Robust and customizable search
• Quick links for most accessed content
• Micro-sites for distinct departments or promotions
• Fundraising - Foundation specific web presence templates
• Job postings, surveys and polling
• Secure Online registration forms for confidential information gathering
• Video and Multimedia and image galleries
• News archive – live dynamic news feeds
• Newsletters – subscribe, create and distribute
• Blogs and forums
• Extranets – for member protected content ideal for staff and committees
• Ecommerce – ability to process payments for donations or events
• Custom forms – ability to create your own forms
• Social Networking – tools to better engage your audience
SEO and Marketing
What is important with most healthcare organizations is promoting the website using ethical search engine tactics and optimization for the best organic results. This includes the ability to control your Meta data, keywords and page URL’s within the content management system often referred to as URL rewriting. Implementing a good quality analytics and reporting mechanism that will help with understanding user trends and content popularity as the site moves forward is also a key element. These metrics are often part of a good CMS and can always be complimented with the free Google analytics. Keep track of website changes and the metrics and constantly review your SEO strategy and keywords for the most effective placement. Optimization is an iterative process that usually involves experimentation and constant tweaking. This is certainly not something you do once and forget about.
Along with an ongoing SEO program, Social Networking integration is quickly becoming an essential tool to interact and connect with your audience. It may initially mean just adding direct linking from your site using an "Add This” type service and may later include dedicated Facebook pages and an active twitter campaign.
What is equally important with any web presence strategy is the day to day administration of that website.
Common amongst healthcare institutions are is the need for multiple admin users, which includes including departmental control of content within their assigned web pages. Departments can be assigned control only over their area of the website and admin rolls can be customized for different functions. For example, you should be able to assign one administrator to manage the newsletter or perhaps the news feed, while the foundation department will have full control over the pages only within the foundation micro-site. Make sure that your CMS includes a customizable workflow so that your institution can align users as per your organizational structure rather than the other way around.
Along with creating different roles for admin users, you should also look for full control of templates and styles within the CMS. There may be a need to modify or update the look and feel of the template or how the text is presented. Your CMS should allow you this flexibility at your convenience.
Security and Technology
Finally, look for a web technology platform that is stable and vibrant, preferably one that is close- source and ultimately scalable. There are several that are available but we prefer Microsoft’s .NET platform combined with an enterprise database server. It is a commercial solution that is well supported by Microsoft and the development industry. Look for a web server hosting partner that is secure and compliant. In the USA, HIPAA standards are required. However, here in Canada, we don’t have the same for the Healthcare industry. PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance is very nice to have and mandatory if your site has any ecommerce.
When requesting any personal information from a user, it is a good idea to use encryption with SSL Certificates. This encryption is required when asking customers to enter credit card information.
Also, implement a healthy password procedure for when the administrator assigns CMS users access to the website back-end and/or to the extranet. Check to see if your organization has already established a password procedure.
Lastly, make sure your CMS and web servers are constantly updated and patched with any new software updates that are available, along with a rigorous back-up and disaster recovery plan. Consider a reasonable maintenance plan that will monitor and maintain your website and database.
This blog by no means covers all issues encountering during the conceiving and construction of a healthcare related website but will give you a great start. Partner wisely and schedule time for discovery and planning your project.