Style Is Substance: and the Redesign of Health Care Websites

In response to the question “What does health care reform look like?” here is an answer that takes  the issue literally. That is, here is a reply that is as important as any answer about one piece of legislation versus another: Health care reform looks like a model of excellence in web design, graphics, optimization for mobile devices and presentation in general; meaning the way an insurer’s site looks, the way it loads on a smartphone or tablet, the way the layout gives it a distinctive appearance, the way the features work (or too often do not work) –– all of these things have a more immediate influence on whether someone buys health insurance or schedules an appointment with a doctor than all the public service announcements (PSAs) an organization airs, all the advertising a committee supports, all the messages a politician sends.

According to Mark Friedman, Founder of

“Style is substance. How, for example, a health care company’s website looks, how easily (or not so easily) it allows users to purchase health insurance or make payments for existing coverage, how  the site adjusts to the dimensions of a screen on a mobile device, these things say more about that company’s priorities than anything else. Unless businesses elevate the specific over the generic – until they take design seriously – they will continue to say, in effect, that first impressions do not matter (to them), while consumers choose to shop elsewhere.”

Friedman is right because I can think of no health care site that is impressive because of its design. I know of no such site, where the layout is memorable, the options are clear and the transactions are fast. The opposite is more the rule than the exception, insofar as the overwhelming number of sites look like clones of one another, though each copy declines in whatever quality the original possesses until the ninth or tenth iteration of the same thing is a mess.

Those sites have bugs and errors, which do nothing to reassure users about safeguarding their privacy and protecting their medical records.

Nor do those sites express any sense of values: Their lack of identity reaffirms the public’s perception that these sites are symbols of bureaucracy, waste and mismanagement, of indifference and delay, of the denial of coverage and the absence of compassion.

The only way to change this attitude – the only way to end this problem – is to put an end to bad design.

As Mark Friedman says: “Great design yields great results.”