Patient-Centric Websites: Strategies for Building Stronger Connections

In the era of digital healthcare, the accessibility of hospital and health system websites has become a critical factor in delivering exceptional patient experiences. Accessible platforms help ensure that all patients—regardless of physical, cognitive, or technological limitations—can access vital health information and services seamlessly. 

For healthcare organizations, a commitment to inclusivity isn’t just a legal obligation under laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s also a cornerstone of patient-centered care, reflecting a health system’s commitment to serving every member of its community. 

According to the CDC, nearly 3 in 5 U.S. adults use the Internet to search for health information, demonstrating widespread demand for easy-to-access resources. Yet, recent studies have shown people experience various degrees of frustration as they seek that information—frustration that fluctuates based on age, race, primary language, socioeconomic status, and disability. Creating a digital presence that welcomes users across all abilities sets the tone and pace with which patients can connect with their providers. 

Key Drivers of Digital Accessibility in Healthcare

Traditional Accessibility: Readability and WCAG Compliance

The foundation of an accessible website lies in both its readability and conformance to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). 

Readability refers generally to using inclusive language, organizing content clearly,  ensuring that medical information is easy to understand, and avoiding complex jargon that can alienate patients. 

WCAG conformance, on the other hand, provides a structured approach to make content and functions accessible to people with various disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. 

While there’s a lot to know about accessibility, the good news is we’ve written about most of it at Oomph. Check out our articles on WCAG 2.2, writing for the web, the power of accessible web navigation, and building an accessible color palette to learn more.  

Serving an Evolving Demographic 

The aging baby boomer generation is on the cusp of massive healthcare utilization, with 80% of adults 65 and older experiencing at least one chronic condition. Despite their less-than-tech-savvy reputation, boomers do utilize digital platforms to access healthcare information. 

When you create an accessible healthcare website, you make your hospital or health system available to an older population with age-related impairments like vision loss, hearing loss, or mobility challenges that can make using a mouse or keyboard difficult. Thoughtfully integrating accessible elements like high-contrast colors and larger fonts can help your organization win the loyalty of older adults, supporting long-term success in a crowded marketplace.  

Website Uptime: Ensuring Constant Access

In critical situations, the availability of a healthcare website can be as vital as the accuracy of the information it provides. High website uptime means your information and services are always accessible, especially during emergencies. This reliability builds trust and can be crucial in time-sensitive situations where access to healthcare information or services can significantly impact patient outcomes.

Language and Translation Services: Bridging Communication Gaps

As racial and ethnic diversity grows across the U.S., offering translation services and multilingual content on healthcare websites is crucial. Your content will reach a wider audience and ensure non-native speakers have equal access to health information, reducing health disparities and improving patient outcomes.

Interactive Features: Scheduling and Wait Times

Integrating features like appointment scheduling and displaying emergency department wait times can also enhance the patient experience. For example, online scheduling allows patients to book appointments without needing to call during business hours, while real-time emergency department updates can help patients anticipate and plan around wait times. 

These functionalities should be designed with all users in mind, ensuring they are accessible to people with disabilities and facilitating a smoother healthcare journey for every patient.

6 Strategies for Improving Website Accessibility

Institutions across the landscape, like the Mayo Clinic, have structured their online presence to offer a wide array of patient-centered services, including appointment requests, doctor searches, and access to health libraries directly from their home page. Embracing this type of comprehensive digital engagement strategy underscores that hospital websites aren’t just supplementary channels, but also pivotal access points for patient care and information​.

If your health system or hospital is ready to enhance accessibility, here’s where to start:

  1. Conduct a Comprehensive Accessibility Audit: Use tools like SortSite to identify areas where your website may not meet accessibility standards.
  2. Focus on High-Impact Webpages: Prioritize pages such as the homepage, contact information, service descriptions, patient portals, and emergency services. These pages are often the first point of contact for patients seeking information or services.
  3. Engage Diverse User Groups in Testing: Include people with various disabilities and age ranges in your testing process to gain insights into your website’s real-world usability.
  4. Educate the Digital Team: Ensure that everyone involved in web design and content creation is familiar with accessibility principles, tools, and best practices for maintaining an accessible website.
  5. Embrace Continuous Improvement: Digital accessibility should be an ongoing commitment. Regularly update your content and features to meet evolving standards and user needs. Working with an agency partner who understands the essential and evolving requirements and best practices of accessibility and UX can keep your digital environments current and compliant.
  6. Leverage Generative AI: Generative AI remains a hot-button issue across many industries, including healthcare. There is even a risk of discrimination or bias if AI algorithms are not accurately trained, potentially compounding access to care for vulnerable and underrepresented communities. Yet, there are several options to adopt AI that can help increase patient access and decrease frustration with administrative tasks for team members while not involving AI in clinical domains. Examples include utilizing generative AI tools to improve content accessibility and delivery, such as helping to ensure medical content aligns with health literacy levels. AI can also create alt text for images or generate patient appointment reminders to ensure timely preventive care. Additionally, AI-powered chatbots that are appropriately trained and maintained have the potential to provide real-time assistance to users, guiding them through the website and answering their queries in multiple languages.

Turn Web Accessibility Into A Tool for Patient Well-Being

Information is power in the digital age, so making your website accessible isn’t just good practice—it’s essential. By prioritizing accessibility, healthcare systems and hospitals can ensure that their digital platforms serve all patients equitably, enhancing patient experience, health outcomes, and business performance.

Are you wondering whether your healthcare website is truly accessible or if you need help getting there? Let’s talk


More about this author

Lauren Capizzo

Account Director, Health & Wellness

Having spent the last 15 years working in health care quality and digital product solutions, I understand the challenges of introducing new systems into organizations large and small. I also believe that having a well designed, customer-focused digital presence is no longer a novelty for companies in the health and wellness space — it's a necessity.

As a collaborative, creative problem solver, I love helping clients build digital solutions with the greatest possible impact. The key is to create experiences that are laser-focused on your customers’ needs. That really hit home for me during the pandemic, when I led a team to build an award-winning digital health solution that remotely connected patients with their care teams.

Discovering best-in-class solutions across industries gives me inspiration. Working with talented, committed people towards a shared purpose makes me feel at home here at Oomph.

When I’m not at work, you might find me traveling with my husband and kids, or trying out new recipes on friends and family. Once in a while, you might even find me onstage — I love improv and karaoke!