What is different about designing websites for the medical profession than any other? Does the designer actually need to be a specialist?
Visitors want reassurance that they are going to receive top quality care, how long they will have to wait for treatment, terms and conditions and how much it is going to cost. They may also want to find out more about a specific procedure or the person who will be carrying it out and will actively seek out that information.
Based on those requirements, the most important web design factor is to exude professionalism. This is generally reflected by certain characteristics which include fast load times, subtle colour schemes, ease of navigation and little or no advertising. Many include photographs of their personnel to make the experience more personal and provide links to pages for specific information. Most also feature their pricing and payment arrangements prominently.
Patients who visit NHS websites are more likely to require an interactive type of website rather than one which offers information and the most likely reason for their visit is to book, change or cancel an appointment. Other potential requirements could be to request a repeat prescription or update personal information. Users are generally only concerned with how quickly their request is responded to and the privacy of the website.
Users are certainly not particularly interested in how the website looks, it is about how easy it is to achieve their desired actions and how quickly they can move on, so this is the most important design element of all. Some users may also have concerns regarding the security of their personal data so some sort of reassurance about encryption during transfer and storage is essential.
Subject-specific websites may be visited by three entirely different categories of user: medical staff for research purposes, patients who have been diagnosed with a specific condition (and their families) or those who have symptoms of some sort and want to look at possible causes. As far as patients are concerned, their level of illness could vary from a very simple medical anomaly through to a terminal disease so sensitivity is required.
The most important elements of this type of website are the content and accessibility. It is absolutely vital that information provided is not only accurate and acquired from reliable sources; it must also be backed up by links to further information such as white papers or other subject-specific resources. Some users prefer the visual approach and the option of good quality images and videos (as well as textual information) may be well-received. Website content should at no time be distracting or distasteful.
Some websites are much more diverse in their content and publish topical information that is either newsworthy or may be of general interest to the public; these types of sites are often complementary to a hard copy magazine. The tone of the content can vary from serious to light hearted and ‘newsy’ and they can be more aptly described as healthcare websites rather than medical.
Healthcare website development generally has far less constraints than medical. These sites are generally much brighter and more attractive and like a magazine, often carry a fair amount of (relevant) advertising, which they may rely on to fund them. Updating content on a regular basis is very important to maintain readership, especially if part of the site is concerned with recent events.
The last category is the domain of alternative health, also referred to as holistic or wellness, which has shown a big upturn in recent times. Typical visitors are seeking information on various ways to replace medical treatments by a more natural means or looking for advice on physical therapies such as acupuncture.
Alternative health websites present no major challenges in terms of development, but as with any website offering information about alternatives to medical treatments, it is essential to make clear that all cases are different, that the information does not constitute advice and that there is no substitute for a qualified medical opinion.
As detailed above, apart from the specific requirements, both medical and healthcare website development, in physical terms, could be completed by any competent web designer or agency. The big difference comes with knowing the most appropriate way of presenting a certain type of site and what the content should consist of, or not.
Factors such as layout and color schemes will also depend on which type of website is being created, but generally speaking, creating the right aesthetic appearance and user experience can be a critical factor to its long-term success.