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7/3/2012
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Feds Embrace Mobile With AIDS.gov Redesign

Government health officials tap responsive Web design for HIV/AIDS website refresh, giving healthcare stakeholders deep access to data across smartphone, laptop, and other displays.

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9 Health IT Tools Patients Should Understand
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) has redesigned its AIDS.gov website, giving it an entirely new look and feel that embraces smartphones and other new media.

"Our embrace of the information-centric model can be seen in the HIV/AIDS service provider locator, which consolidates federal HIV/AIDS service locations in a single user interface that is also packaged as an API" (application programming interface), Miguel Gomez, director of AIDS.gov, told InformationWeek Healthcare. Gomez said that APIs make data more accessible by making them "machine-readable" in a format that is downloadable, free, and easy to find. The site now gives developers and clinicians access to RSS feeds, wikis, widgets, QR codes, and much more.

Gomez said that responsive Web design is a next-generation Web development method of designing content so that it works well on both a laptop screen and a smartphone, automatically adjusting its size to fit the screen.

"Since smartphones, tablets, computers, TVs, and video-game consoles all have different content-display capabilities, responsive Web design ensures that a site's content is equally accessible via all devices without adding the extra cost of designing and maintaining separate 'standard' and 'mobile' sites," Gomez said.

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Gomez says that AIDS.gov exists as a resource for federal HIV/AIDS information in order to educate the public regarding the disease and the risks associated with it. "We also teach our stakeholders to use new media to extend the reach of their work. Embracing responsive design allows AIDS.gov to take key information to communities that are accessing Web-based information in new ways, such as via mobile phones or social networking communities."

Gomez pointed out that communities of color are disproportionately at risk for HIV and are statistically more likely to use mobile technology to access online resources. Embracing mobile allows AIDS.gov to go where the greatest needs exist, Gomez said.

Consumer mobile device use has also influenced HHS's new strategy. "AIDS.gov has seen a 10-fold increase in mobile traffic within the last two years, from 2.5% of all visits to 25% of all visits to AIDS.gov," Gomez said. He added that the top health searches are related to sexual health topics such as chlamydia and herpes, and HHS's own analytics show that mobile visitors are focusing on basic HIV information. Almost 20% of all visitors view one page: "How you get HIV/AIDS."

Gomez asserted that the new changes offer several advantages for consumers. "AIDS.gov's new responsive design allows us to continue providing information to its existing mobile audience in a way that is engaging for users on touch-enabled devices. The site also offers simpler navigation and a more coherent experience between desktop and mobile sites." He added, "We recognize that the complexity of the online experience is increasing, and we need a future-friendly way of adapting as changes occur. Techniques like responsive design ensure that HHS will be able to efficiently adapt to technology changes in the future."

AIDS.gov was launched in 2006 on World AIDS Day. According to HHS, the website has remained in the forefront of the use of new technologies, adding podcasts and social media in 2007 and 2008, and releasing the HIV testing sites and care service locator--an online location-based search tool for HIV medical services--in 2009. It launched a mobile website, optimizing additional services for mobile use, in 2010 and 2011.

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