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Making a difference in how people find health information, today and into the future.

Digital Strategy at One Year: Improving Services for HHS Customers

Technology changes rapidly. To keep pace, the federal government must provide information across a growing number of platforms with limited resources. Federal workers and the American people increasingly expect to access accurate information from anywhere, at anytime, on any device.

Image of the cover of the Digital Government Strategy with ‘one year later’ stamped on top.

The Digital Government Strategy
is One Year Old.

To promote openness and improved customer service, the White House published Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People (Digital Government Strategy) last year. To meet the goals set out in the Strategy, HHS is modernizing our digital services. Through technical improvements, coordination, and strategic thinking, we are radically improving how we conduct business and communicate with the public. These approaches are not new to HHS and we apply them at all levels.

How Has HHS Improved Customer Service?

Ensuring Our Sites Are Optimized for Mobile

In August 2012, HHS offered 12 websites optimized for mobile and 25 mobile health applications. As of April 2013, we offer 25 mobile websites and 30 mobile applications.

Collecting Qualitative Customer Satisfaction Data with the Voice-of-Consumer (VOC) Tool

The VOC tool, developed in-house, allows HHS to create site-wide and page-level customer surveys and polls. HHS uses site-level surveys to collect qualitative data for overall customer engagement on our websites. HHS also uses page-level surveys to determine whether content on a particular page is useful. With this information we can make data-driven decisions to improve the Department’s digital offerings on an ongoing basis.

Making Content Mobile-Ready

HHS uses plain language, bulleted lists, and clear headings to make sure content is scannable and easy to read and understand. We create content using an inverted pyramid and the bite/snack/meal approach by placing most important information at the top of the page, followed by the details. This allows small-screen users to get summary information quickly and dig in to the details if needed. Conveniently,  this style serves desktop users better as well.

Infographic of Highlights of the 2014 HHS Budgets, reads: Creating a Healthier America1) Guarantees resources to bring benefits of the Affordable Care Act to Americans.2) Secures American’s place as the world leader in science, research and technology.3) Provide new support for mental health services and safer schools.4) Strengthens early education to ensure our children can succeed in the 21st century economy.5) Secures Medicare for the future through commonsense savings.Visit www.hhs.gov for more informat

'Highlights of the 2014 HHS
Budget’ Infographic

Revisiting Our Visual Approach

HHS is reworking how we use images in billboards and body copy of text on webpages themselves. We base this approach on metrics and how well images play in mobile environments.

By using more meaningful imagery and infographics, we are able to tell more convincing stories. Well designed infographics allow us to explain a lot in a little space, effectively replacing wordy content.

We successfully applied this tactic to the budget rollout by using a short infographic to highlight how the 2014 budget will contribute to creating a healthier America. This infographic received hundreds of shares on social media and was a successful way to simplify the complex topic of fiscal policy.

Organizing Content around Topics

HHS has 29 Operating and Staff Divisions, but that doesn’t mean digital information should be divided in the same way. Because the public doesn’t care which unit produced a report or owns a piece of information, we are building topic-based websites to better serve the American public.

For example, in fall 2012, we launched BeTobaccoFree.gov which provides consumers with one-stop access to tobacco-related Web content from across the HHS family. We currently maintain 37 topic based websites on everything from Alzheimer’s to vaccines.

Tagging Content

By building tagging systems into our content, we ensure that it can be used in a lot of different environments – on mobile devices, in responsive design layouts, in social media, Application Program Interfaces (APIs), Rich Site Summary (RSS) feeds, etc. and, of course, on our webpages.

Improving Public Access to Data

Through Healthdata.gov and other data resources, we provide the public with the high quality health data collected by our offices. More than 400 datasets and 35 Application Program Interfaces are now available.  Individuals and organizations in the private sector can use this data in the development of applications, products, and services.

Impact on Performance Goals

Improving the digital services we provide customers advance many of our performance goals. Below are three examples of how this work has impacted the goals set out in HHS’s 2013 Strategic Plan.

Reducing Foodborne Illnesses

FoodSafety.gov is undergoing a metrics-driven homepage refresh. After a number of months of focus group based usability testing, reviewing analytics reports, and comparative A/B testing the team is moving into the final phases of refreshing the home page. A/B testing is a simple way to test changes to a page against the current design and determine which ones produce positive results. We used a Visual Website Optimizer tool and tested multiple design options. The proposed changes and subsequent 10-week testing plan aim to resolve usability issues and ultimately help our deliver high-value content that will decrease the incidence of food borne illness across the nation.

Reducing Tobacco Use

BeTobaccoFree.gov launched in November 2012. This site brings the best tobacco-related information from across HHS together. In the spirit of the Digital Government Strategy, it provides consumers with one-stop access to more than 120 different collections of tobacco-related Web content from across the federal family.

The site provides content in a range of formats, including text, video, audio, and infographics, allowing visitors to gather information in a variety of methods. BeTobaccoFree.gov is built in responsive design and resizes automatically to any screen size, from desktop to tablet to smartphone.

Strengthen Health Care

We are rebuilding HeathCare.gov using reliable and secure open source tools. When finished, our code will be available to the public on GitHub.

We will power the new HealthCare.gov with structured content and open data. As a result, the uninsured can expect to have a seamless experience from learning about the Insurance Marketplace, to signing up for coverage, to understanding eligibility, and ultimately getting coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace. All content will be sharable and reusable, made available through an API.

The Future of the Digital Government Strategy

HHS will continue to advance the principles of openness, accessibility, and customer service promoted in the Digital Government Strategy. By putting these principles into practice we are create a modern and flexible digital footprint that can meet whatever new advances the future brings.

Please continue to check this site for updates on digital projects from around HHS, lessons learned, and a lively discussion about digital services. By participating in discussion and collaboration, you are helping to improve our digital services. This helps foster the innovations and advancements that will move these principles further into practice.

How else do you think HHS can improve customer service across our digital assets?

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Your Ideas

Submitted by Monique on
When I decided to sign up for email about one topic, as prompted in the screen, I was sent to a long page of available email subscriptions. Why not sign me up right away and offer me the option to sign up for other publications?
Submitted by Suzanne on
Your goals are admirable, but your website is a hot mess. This weekend I noticed I wasn't able to access hhs.gov AT ALL. I called your 24/7 phone number and was told the website was fine; the problem was on my end. So I called my sister and had her try to access. Same result. This morning some of your pages are up, (like this one) but most are not. That's pretty sad.