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Health Insurance Exchanges Struggle To Charm Customers

Up to 80% of consumers abandon their transactions on the checkout page, even on well-designed retail sites. How can healthcare exchanges learn from their mistakes?

McCaig says that if people are intent on buying something they "will just wrestle with it. If it takes three hours to do it, they'll just keep at it." Demand is high because there are so many uninsured people in the United States, he said, "but the experience doesn't leave a nice taste in people's mouths … Some very simple best practices (and knowing how consumers) use the sites, will optimize the experience."

Another company that evaluates user behavior on websites, UserTesting.com, using different benchmarks, found HealthCare.gov has made significant improvements in its design. The company engaged ConversionMax to evaluate HealthCare.gov in early November.

As ConversionMax chief marketing officer Theresa Baiocco saw the site, it appeared that HealthCare.gov's designers didn't fully consider all the different types of users coming to the site, and what they were trying to accomplish.

"It's an attractive site, laid out nicely; they did a lot of things right," she said. But developing models for the user experience involves understanding the different types of people who will use the site and "defining ... what they're trying to accomplish. You might have five user types; [it] seems like that's missing."

E-commerce sites commit the common mistake, she says, of designing a website with a mindset of "we want people to apply immediately, and that's what we're aiming for." HealthCare.gov was "not intuitive at all; visitors [had] to stop and think way too much."

UserTesting.com was so struck by ConversionMax's findings, it re-evaluated HealthCare.gov two more times -- at the end of November and on Dec. 9 -- and noted these improvements:

  • In making it easy for visitors to find eligible plans, HealthCare.gov's score improved 26%, to 4.5 on a 5-point scale;
  • In making the application process easy, the site's score improved 31%, from 2.9 to 3.8;
  • In making it easy to find needed information on the website, HealthCare.gov improved 30%, to 3.8.

Patience Wait is a Washington-based reporter who covers government IT for InformationWeek. 

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