Why Top Hospitals Have Inadequate Websites: 10 Things to Know

Even hospitals with the sturdiest reputations are having a hard time extending their digital presence and offering expertise beyond the confines of a brick-and-mortar hospital, according to a new report from Evolve Digital Labs.

This first-of-its-kind report, "The Digital Health of Today's Best Hospitals," evaluates the online presence and patient use of digital assets or websites from some of the top hospitals in the country, as identified by U.S. News & World Report. Hospitals and health systems analyzed include Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, UPMC in Pittsburgh, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, among many others.

Here are 10 key findings and points of analyses from the report.

1. Even top brands struggle. Derek Mabie, president of Evolve, said the most remarkable finding from the report is how top healthcare brands struggle to expand their presence on digital platforms or meet consumers' expectations for mobile access. "They are the experts of the field, and there's a reason they have the reputations they do. But when you do very simple searches and look for information and expertise in a digital format, it doesn't really happen," Mr. Mabie says. "They just fail to bring that expertise beyond the hospital walls."

2. Key findings. The study analyzed 57 hospitals from January 2013-January 2014. Its methodology incorporated use of several leading search analysis tools and social media tracking to calculate the patient "reach" of the hospital's website via traffic, domain and page authority, linking domains and inbound links recommended from other sources. The study's key search criteria included terms for all 16 health specializations for which the "best" hospitals are nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report, along with how often these were searched for on a monthly basis.

The analysis found:
•    49 percent of hospitals lacked a mobile patient website
•    67 percent failed to offer online rehabilitation and aftercare information
•    Only 1 in 5 had online pre-registration to reduce patient wait time
•    Nearly 1 in 3 failed to facilitate online bill pay
•    At least 18 percent had onsite errors that hindered the patient experience
•    Nearly 1 out of 2 hospitals did not support post-prescription refill requests online

3. Barriers systems face. Mr. Mabie recognizes some barriers that may hold hospitals or health systems back in their digital efforts. "Clinical oversight of content is probably a barrier. The lack of knowledge of what they should actually invest in this, and what the ROI can be, is a barrier. The internal systems and processes not built for a digital life or world and what consumers expect is a barrier."

4. The need for digital governance. Mr. Mabie also says the report highlights the need for digital governance across healthcare organizations to fill the communication gap between patients, clinicians, health IT experts, marketing and communication teams. He points to the finding that only 49 percent of hospitals have mobile-friendly websites. "If there were digital governance, these top hospitals would all have mobile-friendly sites. We can drive around Boston and see a lot of billboards, but [not as many] mobile sites."

5. The top 10 patient-centric hospital websites, according to the report, are:

•    Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.)
•    Cleveland Clinic
•    University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston)
•    Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston)
•    UPMC (Pittsburgh)
•    Duke Medicine (Durham, N.C.)
•    Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (Philadelphia)
•    Massachusetts Eye and Ear (Boston)
•    The Mount Sinai Medical Center (New York City)
•    Florida Hospital (Orlando)

6. Determining patient-friendliness. To determine whether a website was patient-friendly, the study looked for websites that offered options to complete medical forms before appointments, make appointments, request refills, pay medical bills, view medical records and/or tests and view discharge and rehabilitation information. This composite score was then matched with hospitals' brand reach in search engines and social media to form an X-Y axis coordinate.

7. Google results and brand reach. Search result rankings are one component of a hospital's brand reach score. For example, if a hospital specializing in cancer treatment ranked on page 1 of a Google search for a term like "prostate cancer," that means the site gets at least 1 percent of search traffic directed to its website. One percent of more of the searching public will actually click on links that appear on page 1 of Google search results, and the higher the position on page 1 of Google, the more people will click on the link.

8. Mayo Clinic did best in search results. It was the only hospital that returned an estimated 1 percent or greater, collectively, for all 14 of its specialties that were ranked by U.S. News & World Report. That means Mayo Clinic had page 1 search results for all 70 keywords associated with those specialties.   

9. There is a distinction between patient- and brand-centric website content, and some hospital websites can cross this line without even knowing it. A website might be deemed brand-centric if it touts the hospital in a promotional way or if the information provided is stale, thin or not meaningful. "I think one of the challenges of marketing in healthcare is: Do you really want to sell healthcare?" says Mr. Mabie. "I think what they've unknowingly done is presented themselves as brand-centric and selling their expertise, but if you meet the staff and look at their mission statements, they are very patient-centric."

10. The link between digital presence and spending. Hospitals' subpar digital presence isn't so much the result of hospitals' crunched finances, but more about leaders thinking money spent on website development is not worth it. "I'd say if they truly understand ROI and their ability to capture metrics, most would invest at much greater level," says Mr. Mabie. "It's the most scalable way to reach people."

More Articles on Hospital Websites:
Hospitals — They Don't Market Like They Used To
9 Digital Patient Engagement & Hospital Marketing Strategies to Improve Patient Acquisition and Retention
No More Excuses: Why You Must Include Social Media in Your Hospital's Marketing Strategy


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