Online website pages are designed to communicate valuable information (and often to “sell” something) with a target audience in mind. In the area of health care, our go-to website should be the one provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), whose stated mission is “to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans”. In this blog post, I am going to take a closer look at the HHS home web page to see how well it serves the American healthcare consumer (i.e., users of both before sickness health care and after sickness care). When I first started this healthcare blog in 2015 (when President Obama was in office), HHS’s mission statement read “for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves” (from May, 2016), reflecting the present federal administration’s desire to reduce government’s obligations to health care for its citizens.
I believe that the HHS home web page should be the starting point for all communications regarding health care that individual American healthcare consumers (and businesses) and should operate on the premise that government functions to serve the people. As a healthcare consumer, I should be able to find all health information and services provided through various government programs online in up-to-date, easy-to-use, and easy to navigate (intuitive) formats. Health consumers should be able to go to the main HHS home web page (given below) and easily find what they are looking for.
Unfortunately, this main web page has gotten less healthcare-consumer-friendly since Tom Price took over as secretary (hopefully the next Secretary of HHS will reverse the trend). In today’s HHS home web page, I would not recommend the use of the search box. Let me give you an example to illustrate why. If I am interested in a program that helps me keep my weight within the normal range so that I can reduce the likelihood of getting the type 2 diabetes my mom got later in life, I might type “obesity counseling in my community” in the search box. When I did, I received 2410 results–the first two described government-funded projects being conducted (to show how HHS funds are being spent) and the third and fourth results were about the National Alzheimer’s Project. I got tired of clicking on links that got me no closer to where I wanted to go, so I quit aimlessly looking.
Let’s now assume that I knew to type in the words “Diabetes Prevention Program in my community” in the search box. The first search result (out of 1070), Diabetes Health Resource, sent me to the home web page I needed. A few more links within this Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) web page and I discovered that the nearest program was too far away (over an hour’s drive). Unfortunately, this excellent program is voluntary (i.e., our federal government does not directly support it with government funding) and must be funded by local groups (usually employers).
For most people, the search feature in the HHS home web page requires precise language that your typical healthcare consumer does not know to use. I find the search feature in the HHS home web page too frustrating and time-consuming to use for the typical healthcare consumer.
Looking at the rest of the HHS home web page, nothing screams “click here for healthcare consumer information and services”. The Grants and Contracts and Law and Regulations titles are designed to discourage most healthcare consumers from seeing what they contain. I, of course, did check them out and found the information very much geared to people associated with HICUP (BB Brigade acronym for those who are engaged in the business of health care in the USA). I invite the intrepid healthcare consumer to check out what information lies behind these two links.
If I assume I didn’t know to use the words ““Diabetes Prevention Program in my community” in the search box, let’s see if we can get to the CDC website using one of the other links on the HHS home web page. By process of elimination, I figured out that the Programs & Services link was my best bet for finding the information I desired. As you can see in the figure below, it is not intuitive which link in the Programs & Services will get me to the specific CDC web page I needed.
In fact, after many dead end trips down various linked web page networks, I quit without finding the required information.
Before I leave describing the details of the HHS home web page, I would like you to take a quick look in the Blog area. Although I did not come to the HHS home web page to read this HHS “meet the bureaucrats” (#IAmHHS) oost, I found myself curious to know what a photographer did at HHS and if my tax dollars were being well spent. I have a bit of advice to share with Mr. Smith– take out the statement “HHS switched to digital photography and my workflow went from taking hours to develop film, make contact sheets, select photos and make 500 prints for the press office to mail out to a matter of minutes now”. He is lucky that he doesn’t work in the private sector, where digital technological advances have made jobs like his redundant long ago.
Comparison of HHS Home Web Page and England’s NHS Home Web Page
Healthcare consumers who have tried to navigate from the HHS home web page will quickly discover that the web page was not designed for them. The HHS home web page makes it perfectly clear that healthcare consumer involvement (i.e., engagement) is not welcomed in government’s dealings with healthcare in the United States. Let’s look at another government’s healthcare home web page; namely, that of England’s National Health Service.
I invite you to go to this web page and browse around. It is a pleasure to see how a web page geared toward healthcare consumers would work.
Where is the Healthcare Consumer to Go?
In order to find information that the healthcare consumer can use, the HHS home web page is not the place to start. Using an internet browser rather than search boxes within HHS, I found two HHS websites that provided healthcare consumer information similar to that found on the NHS home web page– healthfinder.gov and the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus®. After much searching from the HHS home web page, I couldn’t find any obvious links to these websites. Most healthcare consumers would have stopped looking long before I did. If they are there, they are buried very well.
Both of these HHS healthcare consumer sites provide limited information about diseases, conditions, and wellness and is written in “language you can understand”. These websites have “dumbed-down” the information about diseases and conditions in them and do not give easy access to higher level information needed to manage one’s own health in today’s for-profit (limited quality) healthcare environment.
Searching for “Diabetes Prevention Programs in my community” in healthfinder.gov gives results found only within the healthfinder.gov loop never inviting me to go directly to the CDC website where I need to go. The Medline Plus®, on the other hand, did take me to the CDC website. I would suggest that healthfinder.gov be mothballed and Medline Plus® incorporate any healthcare consumer features that improves it. When Bob McDonald (the former head of Procter & Gamble) took over at the Veteran’s Administration (VA), he clearly identified the need for one easy- to-navigate website instead of the 12 currently in operation for the VA’s “customers”, i.e., the veterans. The leadership at HHS could take some advice from him.
Summary—HHS Home Web Page
Information about health care that the healthcare consumer can use is not easily found using the HHS home web page as the starting point. Consumer-friendly information is found in many uncoordinated locations (just like the rest of our private healthcare system). The message is clear to the healthcare consumer–KEEP OUT!
The Internet has opened the door to efficient communication between government and us, individual Americans. The information on the HHS home web page is not designed for healthcare consumer and hinders our ability to fully engaging in health care. Although they may like to use words like patient-engagement when it suits them, the leadership at HHS does not treat the healthcare consumer as a critical stakeholder in the U.S. healthcare system, especially since Tom Price took over as the Secretary of HHS in January. Obviously Tom Price’s important “doctor-patient relationship” does not include giving patients online healthcare information that is up-to-date, easy-to-use, accessible from the HHS home web page, and easy to navigate (intuitive).
Let’s increase transparency with a simpler Internet presence and stop hiding behind complexity whose only function is to build bureaucracy. Let’s also call for a governmental health care web site that is geared toward citizen communication and patient-engagement.
I will address some possible improvements in the HHS home web page in a future blog post. I always welcome reader input.