6 Strategies to improve the website user experience for medical travelers
First impressions can make or break a potential relationship. For medical travelers, their first impression of your organization often occurs on your website. Consequently, any interactions on your website have the potential to positively or negatively impact the patient experience. Potential challenges for medical travelers include finding or obtaining desired information, navigating and orienting themselves throughout the website and understanding what is being communicated.
The following recommendations are designed to help healthcare providers improve the effectiveness of their website by ensuring its content and functionality is aligned with the needs of medical travelers.
- Content and functionality should be relevant to the needs and expectations of medical travelers
This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised at how many healthcare providers are falling short of reaching this goal. Oftentimes a website may have not been created with medical travelers in mind, or management simply does not have a clear idea of the needs and expectations of the different traveling patient populations they are serving. As a general rule, self-pay medical travelers typically go through several different stages in the decision and planning process that require website or other online support. Among these are:
- initiating contact with the provider (which can also be part of the research stage and may or may not lead to a purchase decision); and
- trip planning.
Each of these stages should be supported with the appropriate information and website functionality.
Research: During this phase medical travelers are seeking information that will help them determine if a particular medical facility is the right one for their needs. For instance:
- Detailed information about the medical procedures and treatments being offered including potential risks and complications.
- Detailed information about physicians including qualifications, experience, education and language proficiency.
- Quality and safety related information including accreditation of the organization, healthcare indicators and technology.
- Estimated pricing for treatments and who is responsible for medical complications should they occur
- Payment methods and cancellation and refund policies.
- What to expect during their trip.
- Testimonials from previous patients.
It is important to note that all claims on an organization’s website should be supported by hard data and this data should be available to the patient if requested.
Initiating contact with the provider: If patients are interested, they will want an easy way to communicate with the healthcare provider. To facilitate this it is advisable to include multiple contact methods and interactive functionality that is highly visible and easy to use. For example:
- Phone numbers (ideally a toll-free or local number in the country where the patient resides)
- Chat boxes
- Web forms
- Social media
Trip planning: Once the treatment has been confirmed, traveling patients will require information to plan their trip, such as:
- Destination information including travel alerts, visa information and required vaccines
- Lab work or tests that need to be done prior to admission
- Information about appointment including date/time and location
- Ground transportation options
- Hotel recommendations and amenities
- Tourist attractions
It is important to note that potential patients may be looking at multiple hospital websites to compare quality, price and convenience. So the more informative and relevant your content is, the higher the likelihood that a patient will engage with your organization. It is also important to mention that these stages are not always sequential. Patients may prefer to review trip planning information before making a decision or may contact the organization before doing any research. However, these stages have been included as they are a logical and convenient way to visualize the user experience and are helpful in understanding what information or functionality needs to be available for patients. For a better understanding of the needs of traveling patients, take a look at the following article.
2. Ensure your website is adapted to the language and cultural needs of your patients
Over the past decade a growing number of healthcare providers have begun to translate their websites into the language or languages of their international patients and/or traveling patient populations. While this is a good first step, much more needs to be done to ensure your website is “localized” for your target patient populations.
Website localization is the process of adapting an existing website to the local language and culture in the target market. It goes beyond translation to adapt the original (source) language and other site elements to appeal to the customer’s cultural preferences in their own (target) language.  According to Nitish Singh, Ph.D, an expert in localization strategies, “Localization takes into account the inherent diversity that exists in international markets and treats individuals as ‘cultural beings’ whose values and behaviors are shaped by the unique culture in which they live.” Localization impacts all website content including text, imagery, color and layout. For example:
Art, photographs, icons and symbols are often subjective. Designs that seem attractive to Westerners may be offensive to other cultures. Images of hands positioned using certain gestures, religious symbols and animals can be offensive in some cultures. When including images in your website it is important to do your research.
How color is interpreted can also vary from culture to culture. In Japan, yellow traditionally signifies bravery and wealth. In Thailand it is considered a “lucky” color and was associated with the beloved and recently deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In China, on the other hand, the color yellow has negative connotations and is often associated with pornography.  Therefore, it is important to research colors and potential conflicts if you are not sure of cultural implications.
People in the West usually scan a website from left to right. However, people from Arabic countries read from right to left. If this is one of you target markets, you will need to change the layout of the section that includes the Arabic translation. 
Additionally, there are legal considerations that should be taken into account when localizing your website. Countries around the world have their own regulations regarding privacy, terms of service, taxes, and data protection. To protect your organization, it is important to ensure that the content you translate is in line with local law.
Finally, few things degrade the quality and professionalism of a website more than misspellings and grammar errors. Take the time to double and triple check your content before putting anything up live.
3. Make it simple
All of us, at one time or another, have visited websites that take forever to load or seemed disorganized and difficult to navigate. Perhaps you click on what looks like a link and nothing happens, or the main navigation menu seems to disappear or change locations.
Don’t make your visitors think. By this I mean that the function or purpose of every element on your website should be obvious to the user. Visitors want to know what they should do immediately and then do it. They should not have to ask themselves “is this a link?” Or “what’s this button for?” Make links/buttons clear and distinct; keep language clear and simple; don’t use jargon (especially if you are targeting medical travelers) and give examples and support when asking people to provide information.  If your visitors are forced to continually ask themselves questions, then eventually this leads to confusion, and ultimately they are more likely to leave your site.
4. Make your layout and navigation consistent
Layout determines where the text content, navigation, graphic images and other elements are placed on the web pages. If these common website elements are in the same place on every page it means your visitors spend less time trying to use your website and more time engaging with your content.  Visitors don’t always land on your home page; the truth is every page on your website is a potential landing page. Therefore, it is important to keep your navigation, typography and the general layout of your site the same from page to page. Don’t make your visitors wonder where they are. If your main navigation menu is on the left then keep it there throughout the site. If you use a certain font to highlight important elements then do so consistently. Doing so will ensure that your layout looks aesthetically pleasing and is convenient and easy for patients to use.
5. Make your website easy to scan
After spending weeks and months carefully crafting the content for your website, it may be tempting to imagine visitors hanging on your every word. The truth is most people will rarely read through all your carefully crafted text. Instead they are much more likely to scan your content looking for relevant pieces of information. Long blocks of text can be intimidating. According to one study, on the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.  Make your content easier to digest by:
- Breaking up content into shorter paragraphs with clear headings
- Distinguishing headings by using bold text
- Adding relevant and helpful links to more comprehensive content (when it makes sense)
- Using bulleted lists
- Highlighting keywords
- Use white space. What’s not on a webpage is sometimes as important as what is not there. Readers don’t always want to fight through a wall of words. 
6. Make your website mobile-friendly
In this day and age practically everyone is using mobile phones in one way or another. Google is prioritizing mobile-friendly websites.  Increasing numbers of healthcare providers and physicians are communicating with patients via mobile apps.  In fact, I am aware of hospitals who receive most of their medical travel patient inquires via mobile platforms such as WhatsApp or WeChat. So if you want to make your customers happy, remain relevant and reach more patients, it makes sense to ensure your website can be easily accessed via mobile phones.
Patient experience needs to expand beyond the walls of the hospital
GHA advocates for a high-quality patient experience across the entire medical travel care continuum. This includes interactions within and outside of the clinical setting. Healthcare providers who are serious about improving the patient experience for medical travelers should not ignore their website; making it user-friendly and adapted to the needs of their traveling patient populations. It is the welcoming face of your organization; a tool for educating and communicating with traveling patients. As such, it impacts patient perceptions and the patient experience at the very start of the patient journey.
 The Definitive Guide to Website Translation. Lionbridge. https://ww1.lionbridge.com/definitive-guide-website-translation/.Retrieved 1/8/18
 Nitish Singh, Ph.D, Localization Strategies for Global E-Business, Copyright © Nitish Singh, 2012, Cambridge University Press.
 The Definitive Guide to Website Translation. Lionbridge. https://ww1.lionbridge.com/definitive-guide-website-translation/. Retrieved 1/8/18
 What Colors Mean in Other Cultures. Huffington Post, Jan. 26, 2016. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/smartertravel/what-colors-mean-in-other_b_9078674.html. Retrieved 1/8/18
 How to Conduct Website Localization – Don’t Get Lost in Translation. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/12/how-to-conduct-website-localization/ Retrieved 1/8/18.
 The Basics of User Experience Design. Interaction Design Foundation.
 Why is Consistency Important in Web Design? 2017. https://laceytechsolutions.co.uk/blog/importance-of-consistency-in-web-design/ Retrieved 01/09/18
 Nielsen Norman Group. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-little-do-users-read/. Retrieved 1/4/18
 Scanners Vs. Readers: How To Create Web Content That Engages Both Reader Styles. https://www.crazyegg.com/blog/scanners-vs-readers/. Retrieved 01/05/18
 A. Woloszyn. 10 Reasons to Make Your Website Mobile Friendly. http://www.webmovementllc.com/2016/03/10-reasons-make-website-mobile-friendly/. Retrieved 1/7/18
 30 Facts and Statistics on Social Media and Healthcare. https://getreferralmd.com/2017/01/30-facts-statistics-on-social-media-and-healthcare/. Retrieved 1/9/18.
*Medical travel is also known as medical tourism or health tourism.