Creating Consumer-Friendly Websites for Health Care Programs

By Jillian Rice, Communications Manager
and Bethany Snyder, Director of Communications and Outreach

Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, states have been creating new health care initiatives or expanding benefits and services of public health programs. Educating consumers – as well as providers, advocates, caregivers, and other stakeholders serving them – about these new public health care programs or benefits has been a critical element of success. In today’s world, having an easy-to-navigate website with clear and understandable information is an important tool to support that education work.

Harbage Consulting originally developed CalDuals.org in 2012 as one piece of a broader outreach and education campaign to help dually-eligible beneficiaries in California navigate changes in how they receive their Medicare and Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program) benefits through the Coordinated Care Initiative (CCI).

Last year, Harbage Consulting redesigned the CalDuals website into a more user-friendly and modern resource hub. To ensure the website meets the needs of those who use it, we used the following best practices to guide the redesign.

Engage Stakeholders Early and Often

A defining feature of our work on CCI has been the early and frequent engagement of stakeholders. Our website redesign was informed by a specially created workgroup consisting of active stakeholders with first-hand knowledge of how the website was being used and how it could be improved.

The CalDuals workgroup consisted of advocates, providers, and stakeholders who met regularly to help determine the goals, primary audiences, layout, and other key features for the new site. The workgroup was engaged throughout the entire process, from reviewing wireframes to testing the site before it launched.

Identify Target Audiences

Identifying our target audiences dictated the layout, priority content, and features for the new website. We had the benefit of stakeholder feedback, as well as several years of anecdotal feedback and analytical user-data. We had several target populations for the new CalDuals website, all with different information needs.

CalDuals’ target audiences, like many other health care programs, are: 1) consumers, 2) health care providers, and 3) advocates and other stakeholders, such as the public and lawmakers. With our target audiences in mind, we organized the site by population, to give each audience their own navigational pathway, landing pages, tailored menus, button items, and submenus.

Ensure Accessibility

Since CalDuals’ target population includes both people with disabilities and beneficiaries from diverse communities, physical and language accessibility were a top priority throughout the site redesign. In addition to meeting the accessibility requirements required by law, we recommend going beyond the basic accessibility rules to design a truly tailored and accessible site.

Physical Accessibility: To ensure people with visual impairments or other disabilities would be able to use and navigate the site, we used 14pt or larger font. In addition to a high-contrast color scheme, we also included a contrast tool that readers can use to improve readability. We also tested the site using adaptive technologies, such as screen readers.

Language Accessibility: We developed a dedicated page for each language within the site for CalDuals users speaking one of 13 threshold languages. Because language accessibility is a high priority for the populations served by the CCI program, we chose to place access to the language options at the top of the page for maximum visibility. We hired a professional translation company to translate the content on our site, and we recommend not relying on auto-translation tools.

Focus on Structure and Navigation

Today’s consumers want less text-heavy pages and more graphic-focused, simple pages. During the redesign, we carefully balanced the need to provide key information without overwhelming visitors with unnecessary or irrelevant information.

Create Landing Pages: We prioritized the topics of importance to the readers (identified by our stakeholder workgroup) in the menus and left less important pages to a submenu. We also used buttons to highlight individual items that are important or new that otherwise may not make sense to include in the menu.

Leverage Analytics: We used analytics data to determine the most popular content and frequently visited pages and prioritized content for each audience. Pages that were no longer visited or infrequently used, but that needed to be available for transparency and historical purposes, were filed into an archive section.

CalDuals continues to be an important source of educational resources for the CCI, sharing enrollment information, serving as a policy archive, and as a mechanism for stakeholder feedback. We continue to add resources and program information as the CCI evolves and reaches more consumers.