The CDC’s Website has a range of new features, including regularly updated statistics, links to podcasts and a rotating photo collage with information about health key topics. The agency has also added an evolving “tag cloud,” which is “an alphabetized list of the most popular search topics on . . . CDC.gov.” The cloud provides visitors with a snapshot of what information is most important to other Website users. Currently, people are very interested in obesity (i.e., body mass index), chlamydia and diabetes.
The FDA has also launched a new information portal designed especially for consumers. The new site “presents important public health developments clearly and accurately in easy-to-read language.”
The FDA consumer Website is less dynamic than the CDC’s. For example, it does not feature links to the agency’s podcasts. However, people can sign up for a variety of consumer-focused e-newsletters.
A Good Start, But More Can Be Done
The FDA and the CDC should be applauded for taking steps to improve their Websites. However, more can be done. These days people are skipping over government and corporate-produced online health information because it does not provide them with information they need. For example, according to a study funded by the United Kingdom-based Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC):
- Government Websites “were [often] rejected [by consumers] because the first page participants were directed to was a portal or had too much background or generic content.”
-In addition, “[e]ven if a site makes a favourable first impression, it is unlikely to keep [users’] attention if there are no personal stories that [they] can relate to. People are looking for advice from like-minded people and are drawn to sites . . . where they can read about the experiences of other people who have the same problems and concerns.”
They key take away here is that government agencies need to find ways to deliver content that is even more relevant to consumers. For example, this could involve, integrating peer-developed content in appropriate sections of their Websites and answering questions directly from users. The CDC recognizes this need and is currently working to integrate social media and mobile technologies into its communications tool kit.
It won’t be easy to overcome institutional and technological barriers to change (especially when it comes to integrating non-expert produced content into goverment Websites). However, in an age where audiences are fragmented, distracted and increasingly diverse, evaluating and exploring new communications tools and methods is vitally necessary.