I was recently working with a client who has hospitals located throughout a large metro area. Their new site wasn’t working as they had envisioned it and they struggled to understand why.
Uncovering the problem
Whenever we start with a new hospital client, we come in with a basic search test (which I go into detail here: Test your hospital site with these four search terms). This test usually reveals the information architecture and solution architecture of the website we’re evaluating.
Information architecture, or IA, is the structure of your website and how the content and data needs to be organized.
Solution architecture is how the data that feeds your website is organized.
Why is it important to look at the IA and solution architecture when investigating a usability problem? Because bad data and bad structure will always, 100%, and without fail:
- Cause your patients to not find what they are looking for.
- Give you incomplete, messy, or just wrong reports. This prevents you from iteratively fixing your website and making it better.
What we found
Once discovered, the problem was easy to see. This client hadn’t connected their services to their locations. They had hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, doctors offices, etc. all throughout this metro area, but did not link each location to the service it provided. This meant that a patient looking for knee surgery wasn’t able to find the orthopedic surgeon’s office, the hospital the surgery would be performed at, or the rehabilitation center they would need to go to afterward.
Their data was a mess and the patient was paying the price.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a national pizza chain or a hospital system, if you sell services or a product that requires an in-person visit by your customer, your website needs to connect services to locations and locations to services.
You must provide the information to physically get them to where they need to go. Your hospital can’t bill a patient for a service unless they receive the service. Wayfinding information, and the architecture needed to support it, should be your top priority.
Test your own website
How do you know if you have a location and service architecture problem on your website? Take a look at some possible problems your patients are likely experiencing:
- From your website, can a patient understand what service is offered where? If a patient needs an MRI and they land on your websites home page, can they easily find out what suite of what building, and know where to park?
- From Google, can a patient understand what service is offered where? If a patient searches for “MRI [your hospital name]” is there a location listing that shows up in the search results? Does it take them to the right place on your website so they can easily find out what suite of what building, and know where to park?
- Are your services mapped generically to your hospitals, with no additional level of detail? This leaves patients to navigate themselves to appointments, visitations, procedures, and tests without guidance. It is not helpful to tell someone to get an MRI at “[Your Hospital Name].” It’s helpful to tell them to go to the Radiology Department, which is on the main floor of the East Wing.
- Are non-hospital locations are left off your website? This means rehab centers, surgical centers, urgent care centers, doctor offices, and ambulatory centers. For a patient, a service is ANY service your hospital system provides. You need to treat them consistently via your hospital’s website. Otherwise, it leaves patients confused as to what services you really offer.
- Can patients see what physicians and services are offered at a particular location? When a patient goes to a location, they need to see how your data is connected. Listing what doctors and services are available at each location is a critical part of creating a good patient experience.
- Does your global site search test produce consistent results? Is it easy for a patient to find what they are looking for? Go through our article on how to test your global site search here.
Points of view
If any of these questions above caused you to raise an eyebrow at how your current site is structured, here are some points of view you can start to center yourself on.
Points of view are meant to be basic truths you and your digital marketing team should agree with before embarking on any new digital strategy. We always start with points of view because when you’re in the middle of a large and expensive site built, they can be a guiding light to making decisions and prioritizing work.
Take these, modify them to fit your needs, and create to-dos around each one.
- A patient will only associate a service with your hospital if that service is listed on your website. This would be similar to not seeing pants listed on Old Navy’s website, therefore assuming they do not sell pants. From complex genetic tests to a basic x-ray for broken bones, you must list what you provide on your website.
- A location is a physical place a patient goes to receive care. You must agree as to what a location is in order to provide the right location information on your website.
- Your hospital campus is just a group of locations, but it is not a location itself because it doesn’t match to the definition above. A patient doesn’t receive care at your hospital campus, but at locations that are located here. This important distinction will completely change the way your website is architected.
- If you have multiple markets your hospital services, a market is a geographical area made up of hospital campuses and locations. You need to ensure you define this so you have your hospital system data architected accordingly.
- A service is provided at a location, not at a hospital campus. If a hospital campus is just a group of locations, it inherently cannot have services. This distinction will also help how you set up your relationship between services and locations.
- A location can be stand-alone or physically located at a hospital campus. A free-standing urgent care clinic is a location, as well as an orthopedic group that just happens to be located on your hospital campus. Defining these both as locations is important to how you structure what a location is on your website.
- A location can be any of the things below. These words should match how you talk about yourself from a brand perspective, while also mapping to the common-language terms your patients use. You need to use the same terms everywhere, on signage, in marketing materials, in clinic or department names, and of course, on your website.
- Departments within a hospital
- Offices within a hospital
- Emergency Rooms
- Diagnostic Centers
- Imaging Centers
- Rehabilitation Centers
- Urgent Care Clinics
- Physician Offices
What you should do differently
Have I kept you reading this long? You hanging in there? Good. Because now we should talk about some things you can do differently to connect services to locations, and vice versa, on your hospital website.
1. Align your solution architecture correctly
If you’re using our points of view above, the organization should look something like this:
2. Make sure all your locations are on your website
If you’re using our points of view above, this means any clinic, department, office, diagnostic center, etc. should all be on your website. Even if they are offsite, if (from a patient’s perspective) they are part of your hospital, put them on your site.
Make sure they have photos, map information, directions, hours, where to park, etc.
Remember, a location is a place a patient goes to receive care. This means that the endocrinologist’s office on the 2nd floor of your professional building should be on your website as a location. It would be given the same “location status” as your ER.
3. Map locations to the hospital campus it falls under
Now that all your locations are on your website, you can start to group them by hospital campus. Your solution architecture and information architecture will need to show a parent-child relationship between your locations and your hospital campuses.
By having all your locations on your website and now mapped to a hospital campus, you’re mimicking real-life conversation:
Where do I go get my x-ray?
You can get x-rays at Community Hospital, which is located next to Union Station downtown. Follow the signs to park in Garage A and go into the Main Tower. Take the elevators to the 2nd floor and Radiology will be the first department on your left. It’s suite 2500.
You would always start with what hospital campus the service is available at, then give directions to the building, floor, and suite. That is what this mapping exercise does. It helps meet the goal we talked about at the beginning of this article. Your website must help a patient physically get where they need to go. The hospital campus to location relationship is taking real-life directions and putting it into the architecture of your website.
4. Map your services to your locations
Via a taxonomy or similar structure, you can now take your list of services and map them to each location.
By doing this you are saying a patient can get an x-ray (the service) that is available at Radiology (the location), which is located at Community Hospital (the hospital campus).
Although summarized in a short article, aligning your services and locations is not an easy task. There are databases to rework, websites to change, politics to navigate, doctors to get on-board … But, what it does is take the burden of finding where to go off your patients.
It makes your patients more likely to show up to appointments, more likely to pick you over a competitor, and it gives you data to keep improving and making your website better.