There’s no denying that the rollout of Healthcare.gov has been a debacle. However, this one site should not be the thermometer to measure the health of all federal government websites or the competence of the federal government when it comes to digital initiatives.
Despite what you may be reading (and seeing and hearing!) about one very high-profile and very low-functioning federal site, e-government is actually doing very well overall. In 2013, citizen satisfaction with federal government websites on average reached its highest level since first measured in 2003. This shows that government leaders are listening to the citizens and providing web experiences that meet and, in several cases, exceed citizen expectations.
Actually, of the 105 sites measured in a recent study, 32 sites (31%) score 80 or above on a 100-point scale – ForeSee’s threshold for excellence.
On top of that, when we look specifically at health-related federal government sites, 38% of the top-scoring sites (the highest of any department) belong to the Health and Human Services (HHS) department. That means 50% of all HHS sites measured in the report score “excellent” from the citizens’ perspective. With that in mind, it’s fair to say that the federal government usually knows how to provide great health sites.
Tackling an initiative as large in scope and scale as nationalized healthcare insurance is a daunting task at the very least. And there are a lot of moving pieces to a site that needs to help people compare insurance options, verify income to find eligible tax credits, communicate with insurance companies in order for them to purchase a plan, and then make sure it’s all valid and verified. Regardless of these facts, government leaders knew that going forward and they should not be considered viable excuses for the situation in which they find themselves now.
On the surface, Healthcare.gov failed because it just didn’t work technically, plain and simple. The deeper problem is that they failed to meet citizen expectations, which will have a longer lasting effect, especially as expectations will continue to escalate. And the challenge will be to not just meet the demands – the sheer number of people who need to access the site – but to meet and exceed their expectations by providing a great experience. We would argue that Healthcare.gov’s failure will ripple far beyond—and long after—the initial set of problems is fixed.
If we rewind the clock to 2005 when the federal government unveiled its Medicare Part D plan we are reminded of similar rollout problems and scrutiny early in its implementation in 2005 and early 2006. One of the sites that helped citizens to enroll in that initiative was the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Socialsecurity.gov/i1020 site. The site, which allows for Medicare participants to apply for extra help in paying for the monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and co-payments related to the Medicare Prescription Drug program, is currently one of the top scoring federal government websites measured in the E-Government Satisfaction Index in citizen satisfaction. In fact, it currently outscores private-sector heavyweights such as Amazon, Google, and Apple.
So, to say the least, federal “entitlement” sites can accomplish their mission, and this administration DOES indeed know how to accomplish great things in e-government, leading me to believe that not all is lost for Healthcare.gov.
With that said, the site’s administrators have made great strides in the past six weeks since the site’s marred launch, and the changes they are making now appear to be fixing the initial technical glitches.
The federal government must ensure that the path they are on now with Healthcare.gov is the right path. First and foremost, they need a working website. Site administrators then need to measure and manage citizen experiences if they want the site to continually improve and eventually succeed.
Right now they are using basic metrics such as response time and error rate to help focus their improvements, which is perfectly fine and acceptable at this stage. However, eventually they need to measure the citizen experience with a precise, reliable, accurate, and credible technology that can:
- Show them how well they are doing by way of citizen satisfaction;
- Pinpoint where they should focus improvement efforts to drive citizen satisfaction;
- And highlight why they should improve by measuring citizen future behaviors such as their likelihood to recommend the site, use the site as their primary resource, return to the site, and trust the site.
With these actionable insights, site administrators can improve the site so it meets and exceeds citizen expectations while earning back citizen trust in what has been a major disaster from their perspective.