5 Lessons to be Learned from the Launch of Healthcare.gov

There are few things as politically charged as taking on the discussion of the health care exchanges.  However, we would like to take a step back from political questions and take a look at the technical aspects of its recent launch.  If you tried to get a healthcare.gov account any time since October 1st you likely saw something like this:

That’s because the launch of the federal healthcare exchange portion of the website healthcare.gov has been riddled with technical errors provoking a lot of frustration and hard feelings for people who are seeking to get healthcare on the exchanges.  If you are seeking to launch an online application, this is the kind of ill will that you would probably like to avoid.   In the spirit of learning from the mistakes of others, we have 5 lessons you can learn from the launch of healthcare.gov, that will make the launch of your new application more successful.

  1. Don’t rush to release something that isn’t ready:  Reports are coming in from CNN and all over the web that says, that the government was advised that the application was simply not ready to go live.  However, they launched the application anyway.  Now everyone, even those politically aligned with the legislation behind it are talking about what a mess it is.  While those using the healthcare exchanges will have to come back, you don’t have that option in business.   It’s better to release an excellent product behind schedule than to release a very flawed project on time.  In business you are only going to get one shot to wow your customer, and a half formed application launched to early will seriously hurt your company’s reputation and profit margin.
  2. Make sure you have sufficient infrastructure: We don’t know exactly how many servers or how much bandwidth was dedicated to launching healthcare.gov, but what we do know was that it simply wasn’t enough.   They were not prepared for the influx of people trying to get onto the website to sign up.  As a result, there were slow loading times, requests to wait that took 5 minutes or more (note: these were the wait times that I personally experienced, individual experiences my vary) at each stage of sign up, and in many cases once they got to the point where they could start creating their account the application failed all together.  All of this caused by a failure to secure enough server space to run the application.  Throughout the life of your application your traffic will ebb and flow.  In order to keep your application running during those heavy periods, where you stand to make the most money, it is essential that you prepare for the high tide in advance.  There are hosting packages out there that allow you to pay only for the portion of the server capacity you are currently using.  So on days when your traffic light you aren’t paying for servers that are sitting there doing nothing.  However, your system is configured to automatically begin using other servers and more bandwidth as traffic picks up.  This means that you are prepared for an influx without paying an exorbitant amount for servers that you rarely use.
  3. Provide a shopping feature that lets people look at what you have before committing to providing tons of personal information:  No one likes to give more personal information than absolutely necessary on the web.  People have been trained to be skeptical of giving out information to company that they aren’t 100% sure they want to do business with.  In the present climate, the U.S. government definitely falls into that category.  That’s why it’s so counterintuitive for users to have to create an account and provide personal info before even getting a glimpse at the premiums that they may have to pay.   Healthcare.gov could have taken a lesson from current insurance applications, which ask a few preliminary questions to show a general price with the caveat that your actual costs may vary depending on a number of factors.  A brief questionnaire that had age, number of dependents, and income range would have sufficed to give people a rough estimate, and then they could have made a decision from there.  This also has the advantage of freeing up some of that server bandwidth that they were so low on to begin with.  So, our lesson here, is get only the most necessary information up front, because if you ask your customers their whole life story before they can ever get a general idea of what you are about then you have just lost them.
  4. Minimize the number of clicks required as much as possible:  In the process of extracting your whole life story from you the healthcare.gov site commits another cardinal sin of web design, namely it doesn’t condense steps nearly enough resulting in an ungodly number of clicks.  In designing a web form or application, there is a fine line to tread between getting enough information at each step without overwhelming them on each page.  Ask several questions on each page, that reduces the number of steps it takes to get done.  Just make sure that you group the questions logically, and you don’t ask too many at once.  For instance, your first screen should be all contact information, name, address, phone number, email etc.  This information is expected to be grouped together and if you put that information all on he same page you have saved several clicks.
  5. If you are going to have help lines make sure they are adequately staffed:  There is nothing more infuriating than being unable to make an application, that was supposed to make your life easier, work and then sitting on hold for god knows how long waiting for someone to be available to help you.  Yet this was the experience of many of the early users of the healthcare exchange.  A simple fix is that, especially at your launch, you should prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  Have as many people as you possibly can available to help if things go epically wrong, maybe you will be pleasantly surprised and they will be idle.  However, if things do go wrong having a ready army of support personnel will smooth over ruffled feathers and help you turn a negative experience into a positive one.

The epic failure of the healthcare.gov federal exchanges has been enough to make even the most novice web designers cringe at the missteps.  However, your application does not have to suffer the same fate. For more information about how to develop an application that will wow your customers contact Nourtek Solutions today!

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