As an award-winning creative communications agency, we at Cube are often asked, “What makes a successful NHS Trust website?”
Because the answer to this is so multi-faceted, we’ve conducted an interview with our Managing Director, Mark Frith. Read on, as Mark really gets down to the fundamentals of what it is that makes an NHS Trust website work.
So, Mark, why do hospitals need a good website?
There are, in my opinion, a number of reasons that a hospital needs a good website. First and foremost, so that patients, family members, carers and friends can find out information about the hospital. That’s everything from information about a particular service, right through to where to park when visiting a family member.
Most people will try the website first to access this kind of information. When they do that, they should be able to find the information quickly and without any stress or confusion. People expect quality of service from NHS Trusts, and the website should reflect that.
Secondly – and this one is often overlooked by Trusts – the website should reflect the vision and the values of the hospital. This is not only for patients and visitors but also for prospective employees. From consultants through to auxiliaries and support staff, the right impression needs to be made to all potential personnel.
Think of a hospital as a business in a town or city. It’s often one of the biggest employers in the area and an organisation that remains constant throughout generations. People forget that they are potentially recruiting from a community that might still be at school or college, or that are currently working in a different environment or profession. A good website will not only help to promote the quality of care it provides for its patients – but it can also promote quality of employment to its staff.
How much time should NHS Trusts dedicate to their website?
As a creative communications agency with 20 years of experience in building websites for NHS Trusts, we can do everything needed to build attractive, functional and informative websites for hospitals.
However, we can’t do it without significant time investment from the client. This generally involves a dedicated person being made available to manage the website project at the client’s end for between four and six hours every day for three or four months.
Clients often ask me why they will be required to put such a lot of time and resources into the project – why can’t Cube manage everything? The answer is that from experience, existing Trust websites often have in excess of 1,000 live pages. Each of those pages will need auditing to check that all information is relevant and up to date. To access the page, read it, edit, rewrite, source images and links, check contact details and more, usually takes an average of 15 minutes per page. If you multiply 15 minutes by 1,000 pages, you get 250 hours. And that’s before you even start thinking about engaging with internal departments such as Patient Engagement, IT and Informatics, who will be instrumental in delivering the final successful website. We are not best placed to decide which information is relevant and up to date in your organisation, and that’s why you’ll need a dedicated person to do this.
It’s important that clients plan for their side of the project by allocating capable resources to the work. We often say that our job is quite easy and that the hard work is done on the client’s end. What we mean by this is that we design and build websites for NHS Trusts every day – it’s what we do and it’s what we are experienced at. However, clients don’t do this work every day – it’s probably only every three or four years or more that they need to focus on a website development project.
This is when problems begin, as day-to-day work and unexpected challenges can get in the way of clients dedicating sufficient time to the project. We find that the most effective way to ensure that a website is delivered successfully and on time is when clients have a totally dedicated member of the team to manage the three to four month process. It’s a tough call, we know, but we often advise clients that they wouldn’t usually spend the amounts of money that a new website might require without having a clear and robust strategy for getting it right the first time.
We are fortunate to have access to experienced people that we can introduce our clients to if they don’t have the resource capacity or even capability to manage the project. Some of these individuals have worked in NHS communications previously, and can work directly with our clients on short term contracts. They will support the Trust internally and manage every aspect through to finally launching the website. If our clients need their support, these qualified people can assist with:
- Writing your brief
- Developing a technical specification that not only meets the Trusts IT requirements but also meets national NHS guidelines
- Initial PID
- Developing and managing the DPIA
- Risk Assessments
- Request for Change management
- Governance requirements.
That’s a lot of time that needs to be dedicated, but Cube can provide the resources if the Trust don’t have them available. So, tell us, Mark, what would you say makes a successful NHS Trust website?
Firstly, there are some things that every website should have, but not all do, so it’s important to mention them before we get down to the nitty-gritty of what makes a truly great Trust website. Let’s start with the basics, which are:
- Clean, well-branded design.
- Ease of navigation.
- The site should be mobile-friendly. A high percentage of users will likely never access your website from a desktop computer, so it is important that the design is always focused on mobile-first for users. The latest figures show that as high as around 60% of people will only ever use their mobile devices to view websites.
- Engaging health content with actionable insights that patients can clearly understand.
- Clear, concise medical information. Data visualisation should be in the form of infographics where necessary.
- Effective copy messaging.
- High quality imagery.
- Engaging videos. These should always have subtitles. As well as catering to a visually impaired audience, many people watch videos on their phones without any volume.
- Fast load times and an SSL certificate.
- Proof of medical authority and expertise.
- Virtual accessibility/ability to have an online consultation.
- Easy to use booking system.
- SEO and advanced analytics tracking.
- Frequently asked questions page.
- Strong call to action on every page
Great, that’s the basics of an NHS Trust website covered, what else is important?
Well now we’ve got the fundamentals out of the way, it’s essential to have a good, clear plan for auditing the content within your existing website. This should include a strategy for how the content is going to be either migrated, edited, or created from scratch.
Often clients do lots of extremely hard work around the procurement and user engagement phases of a website, only to get bogged down when they realise that they have over 1,000 web pages to audit.
Cube has developed a process that helps clients with this work. We capture all the content from their existing website and provide it in an easy-to-understand document that they can edit.
That sounds like it saves your clients a lot of time.
It really does. It also ensures that all the content is audited correctly and helps clients when they are restructuring content within the website. This is because it gives them a detailed visual schematic that helps them to understand where the content appears and in what sections and pages.
The second most important factor in creating a successful NHS Trust website is engaging with the people who will use your website. This includes patients, friends, families, carers as well as governors, staff and any other groups or departments that will use the website on a regular basis.
All too often we talk to clients that have had bad experiences because their previous digital or website agency didn’t engage correctly with the very people who would be using the website.
How does this user engagement work?
The insights that workshops, focus groups and testing bring are crucial to finding out exactly what Trust users want and need from the website.
You might think that these things would be the same for every Trust, but this is unfortunately not the case, or our job would be much easier! Different Trusts have different communities, made up of various ethnic backgrounds, ages and abilities. This means that the services and support they provide are also different.
So, just like the design, there is no ‘off the shelf’ approach to developing a research and engagement strategy for your service users and stakeholders. Absolutely everything we design and build is created entirely with you and your ‘customers’ in mind.
This engagement is the first stage of our approach whenever we are commissioned to work on a website. It’s one of the most important parts of a process that we have developed over the last 20 years. Lots of other agencies have copied this strategy, which is all about Discovery and Development, with the final stage being Deployment. We call this approach three-dimensional, or 3D, as it takes every aspect into account.
It seems you leave no stone unturned! Why should NHS Trusts invest in their website?
For precisely the reasons I have mentioned. A poor website will not promote quality of care, nor will it promote a high-quality work environment.
Also, it’s important to note that things are constantly changing in the health system – new services come on board, new locations are added – growth is happening all the time. Trusts need to be able to communicate these changes through a modern interface that people can access quickly and easily no matter their age, ethnicity, or ability.
Finally, it’s also important to invest in NHS Trust websites because technology is changing at such a fast pace. If a Trust looked at its website’s appearance and functionality from as little as five years ago, the likelihood is that it would be a world away from its current website. There are always new things that a Trust website needs to be able to deliver, and this is the main reason that it really needs to be refreshed at least every three or four years.
So does this mean Trusts need to spend lots of money every three or four years? That seems a lot!
Not necessarily. There shouldn’t be a need for huge capital expenditure for the Trust every time the website needs a refresh. If the website is built correctly in the first place, it should be future-proofed for at least five to six years.
That makes sense. Are there any particular sections or elements that you’d recommend that all NHS Trust sites include?
I’d say the most important element is accessibility, and not just from a governmental tick box perspective. The NHS is for everyone; therefore NHS websites should be for everyone too. We have a network of people that test our sites in real life before they go live. Our testers include those who are partially sighted, deaf, can’t use a mouse for a variety of reasons, such as motor neurone disease, and those who don’t speak English as their first language.
That’s a great idea, I’m surprised more web developers don’t do this. What else should be included?
A really good search function. One that searches not only for keywords within the website but that can search documents such as PDFs, Word documents, PPTs and lots of other things.
How much does a hospital website cost?
[Mark laughs] This is often asked of us. It’s a bit like asking, “How long is a piece of string?” Whilst we can’t give a definitive and accurate answer, what we can say is that from experience a Trust website could cost something between £20,000 and £40,000, depending upon the work that is required.
This could relate to how involved we are needed to be in working with patient engagement, or on creating or migrating patient information leaflets. It could also depend on whether a Trust wants a secure login resource area for health care professionals (HCPs), and what other specific functions the Trust wants from its website.
It really frustrates us when we find out that Trusts have been charged extortionate amounts of money for what can easily be done for a lot less.
We believe that some other agencies see the NHS as a ‘cash cow’ and try to get away with charging whatever they can. I am proud to say that Cube has a reputation as a financially ethical organisation – we do not believe in spending obscene amounts of public funds unnecessarily.
Glad to hear it, Mark! Why would you say that Cube are the best people to create a successful NHS Trust website?
Frankly, people trust us to provide a first-class service without picking a number and doubling it. Cube has proved time and again that NHS organisations are often paying way over the odds for their websites.
We genuinely care about the needs of service users and stakeholders and are focused on cost-saving for Trusts. Technology is constantly evolving, and we keep abreast of all new functionality, systems and guidelines.
What should people do if they’d like to find out more, Mark?
We’ve got lots of examples of how Cube has supported NHS organisations on their web journey. To see these case studies, or find out more about our approach, give me a call at Cube Creative, my telephone number is 0161 920 0011.