Merging health literacy principles with the best practices of web design
Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. Research generally indicates that there is a link between low health literacy levels and individuals who experience high hospitalization rates as a result of a lack of knowledge surrounding disease prevention.
With the majority of the population having some form of access to the Internet, the presentation of healthcare information has also transitioned online. This creates a unique meeting between users who may be health illiterate and organizations using digital strategies to provide health related information to these same users. It’s important that digital tools, such as websites, leverage best practices for improving overall health literacy online. Luckily, many digital best practices are in line with ensuring that your website will aid health illiterate users.
Strategies for optimal usability and health literacy practices
Know your users. Understanding the users coming to your website is the deciding factor in the success of your website as a marketing tool. Collect all possible information about your users including who they are, why they come to your website, how they got to the website and what their goal is once they arrive.
Social and cultural factors may influence how users with low health literacy interact with your site and the information presented. Family members are often searching on behalf of another person or a user may be using technology provided to them by a family member or friend. Knowing this information will create the foundation for the page hierarchy, content and technical requirements of the site.
Keep content and navigation simple and organized. Never underestimate the importance of a strong content hierarchy and simple sitemap. Users will rely on website navigation and associated elements to guide them to the information they seek. A website should have clear and linear paths of information; navigation, content hierarchy and page structure should funnel users into certain paths much like a story.
A good content strategy, created at the beginning of any website project, will ensure users can seamlessly navigate to the content they need. A comprehensive and easy to use search function is also important for helping users find information with as little effort as possible.
Present content clearly. The attention span of web users has become increasingly short with the adoption of mobile devices. Since attention spans are short, users are likely to get easily distracted. Additionally, users with a low health literacy rates are more prone to distraction leading to actions such as “link hopping” or moving quickly from link to link without reading or scrolling through content.
When it comes to content, it needs to be straightforward and allow users to easily identify some preceding action. To ensure your users are engaged with the content on your website:
- Lead with the most important information. Users will likely be scanning the page quickly for answers to questions they have already formed. If they cannot easily or quickly find those answers they may leave the site.
- Provide specific calls-to-action. Make sure there are clear actions for the user to take on each page. If the goal is for the user to sign up for a newsletter or interact with a risk calculator, make sure that everything on the page drives the user to that action.
Design around content. The design of the website should always serve to enhance the content by making it easy to read and understand. There are many ways to accomplish this such as:
- Incorporating bullets and lists
- Including clear, meaningful headers throughout the page as topics change
- Using sans serif fonts and at least a 12-point font
- Incorporating white space, particularly around main content areas
- Breaking up text with images that are relevant to the content and help provide additional context
Ask for basic information. Providing great content and requiring users to provide some information to obtain that content is a best practice for lead generation efforts, but it’s important that forms aren’t too long or complicated. When creating forms:
- Ask for the minimum about of information
- Keep required fields to a minimum
- If registration or more in depth information is required, make sure the user can complete the process within 3 pages or less
Health information has historically been very complex and hard to understand for the majority of users. It’s an ongoing challenge finding digital solutions that help users understand and engage with difficult health information. The strategies above will provide a strong foundation for meeting this challenge. In addition, a website should never be considered complete. Ongoing research and iterations on design and functionality will keep a website poised to meet future challenges and help innovate the presentation of health related content on the web.
For more information on digital healthcare strategies and health literacy, contact us.