Customer Stories

20+
Microsites
13K+
Physician Profile Pages
15K+
Content Pages

The Challenge

With over 28,000 pages available on Northwell Health’s website, patients were having trouble finding information on the specific treatment, ailment, or doctor they were interested in, and Northwell wasn’t seeing many appointments booked from its website.

Our Plan

Taking a page from retail’s handbook, Northwell looked to improve its website UI, adding CTA buttons in prominent locations, and implement Lucidworks’ robust out-of-the-box relevancy and typeahead features to make finding content simple and straightforward.

The Results

With relevant search results, patients can now navigate to doctor profiles they’re keen on, or research treatments or ailments, and book appointments. Search recommendations promote browsing and favorited physician lists guide patients to CTAs that increase conversions.

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Ecommerce Trends Improve Northwell Health’s Online Patient Care

How a top healthcare provider applied retail practices to its website to support business goals and delight patients

Malls were once a staple of American life. In the 1960s, three new malls opened every day, and by 1975, 33% of retail sales happened in malls. By the 2000s, however, as online shopping became more accessible, foot traffic in malls began to decline. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the mall’s slow death has been expedited. Roughly 200 department stores are now just a memory and 800 more are predicted to close by 2025.

Hospitals, medical care’s one-stop-shop equivalent to the mall, are facing a similar fate. From 2005 to 2015, inpatient hospital visits decreased by 6.6% as patients sought treatment more often at conveniently-located, specialized outpatient centers. Visits to outpatient facilities increased by 14% over that same period. In 2019, over 30 hospitals filed for bankruptcy. With the pandemic, increased operating costs mean total hospital revenue could decrease by anywhere from $53 billion to $122 billion in 2021.

In response to the change in shopper behavior, successful retail enterprises turned their attention to their online properties. Companies like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have enhanced the value of their brand by offering superb online shopping experiences with added conveniences, like curbside pickup for pandemic-safe and speedy order fulfillment, and added services, like remote technology support from Best Buy’s Geek Squad.

Today, it’s widely recognized that the retail industry drives innovation in online user experience. Easy-to-navigate websites that delight customers with user-friendly interfaces are a boon to company revenue, and money is always a good motivator of progress. As Northwell Health, one of the U.S.’ largest healthcare providers, saw visits decreasing in its hospitals, it thought it could take a page from retail’s book and adapt. Not wanting to go the route of the abandoned shopping mall, it looked to improve online UX to benefit its patients and business goals.

Afterall, patients are also retail customers and have learned from shopping online what they should expect when interacting with a seller. As shoppers, they decide where to spend their money based on convenience, product quality, and cost. Why should a seller of services provide a lesser experience online than a seller of goods? Why should the patient experience be worse than the shopper experience?

Meeting Patients Where They Are

Northwell knew it needed to satisfy its patients’ changing needs, both in-person and online. To offer care in the localized way that was gaining popularity with patients, it incorporated urgent care facilities so it could meet patients closer to home. It added conveniences such as on-demand laboratory services where an appointment is booked online and a phlebotomist shows up at your front door for a blood draw. Then it turned to its website.

Extreme Makeover: Website Edition

Redoing the website was nothing new for Northwell, it had completely revamped six homepages in five years. This time, though, it wanted to knock it out of the park so the website didn’t have to be redone again in a year. It wanted to transcend what other healthcare providers were doing and offer an Amazon-quality UX. Its new website should empower patients with information and services while supporting business goals.

And these goals support a big business: over 13,000 physicians, 70,000 employees, 25 hospitals, and 750 out-patient care centers all live under Northwell’s umbrella. A team of just 12 people supports the organization’s technical needs, and led the charge on the website renovation project.

Search at the Center

Since you have to be able to find a product in order to purchase it, search is at the center of most retail websites. Similarly, even with best-in-class doctors, the most advanced hospitals, and most successful urgent cares, if a patient can’t find services, it’s all for naught. With that in mind, the technical team set a series of ecommerce-influenced findability goals to kick off the redesign:

  • Improve search relevance to more quickly get users what they’re looking for.
  • Provide content type grouping to assist with some of the complexity of medical terminology.
  • Implement search with typeahead to provide increasingly accurate results with each keystroke.
  • Provide spelling correction so patients no longer end up with “no results” if they misspell a doctor’s name or a procedure.

All of these features support the greater business goal of keeping patients engaged on the website, rather than them turning away to find answers from a competitor.

Northwell partnered with Lucidworks to facilitate the search advancements it needed. Not only did Lucidworks have experience transforming search for others in the healthcare field, but Lucidworks’ search platform offers features that aligned well with Northwell’s wishlist. Lucidworks enables typeahead and spellcheck, and has excellent relevancy out-of-the-box with user-friendly tuning capabilities to allow for further refinement.

Designed To Boost Conversions

To increase conversions, patients are now guided toward call-to-action (CTA) buttons throughout the site. Individual doctor profiles and practice pages prominently feature “book an appointment” buttons so appointments scheduled—what Northwell considers conversions—increase. Navigation bars with CTAs are sticky so they follow the user down the page, making a button click effortless and enticing.

Northwell Health doctor profile
If a patient visits a doctor’s profile, but doesn’t book an appointment, then returns to the website later, a pop up appears asking, “Would you like to talk to Dr. Smith?,” further encouraging a conversion completion.

Find a Doctor With Ease

The “find a doctor” feature was bolstered with a number of UI improvements. Recommendations of what “others have searched” encourage browsing. “Recently viewed physicians” and “favorited physicians” make returning to physician profiles, and booking an appointment, straightforward. For those patients with time constraints or urgency, physicians can be searched based on availability. All of these capabilities mirror what patients are familiar with using on commerce sites.

Clicking onto a physician profile page, patients find a picture of the doctor prominently featured alongside the “book an appointment” button. Scrolling down the page, the doctor’s bio, credentials, areas of focus, and practice locations are all listed. Finally, a “meet his team” section highlights other doctors this physician refers patients to—another way to encourage conversions. If your favorite doctor is booked up, make an appointment with a colleague he trusts.

Content Search

On top of the 13,000+ physician profiles on Northwell’s website, over 15,000 web pages provide information on conditions and treatments, or house videos, press releases, and campaign landing pages. With this much content to explore, a patient looking for particulars in one article, or on one ailment, will never get there on his own. Search has to assist.

Before recruiting Lucidworks, result relevancy was poor and created a roadblock to patients’ ability to retrieve information. If someone searched “TAVR,” a surgery that puts a stent in the aortic valve, rather than information on the specific surgery or names of top physicians who perform the procedure, a link to general cardiology was the first result. Before Lucidworks, the first result for a patient searching “cardiac catheterization” was a link to a cardiology practice in Staten Island, a location that doesn’t perform the procedure. Results just didn’t make sense to patients.

With Lucidworks improving relevancy, the TAVR informational page—what it is, when it’s necessary, how it’s done, along with risks and recovery data—is the first search result, followed by “about us—cardiac surgery,” which TAVR is. The informational page on cardiac catheterization is now the first thing patients see when searching for that procedure.

To further improve relevancy, the technical team uses Lucidworks’ analytics capabilities to analyze queries and tune with real-time feedback. Synonyms have been added so when a patient searches for “heart attack,” documents written about “myocardial infarction” (what medical professionals call it) come up. Patients are finding the information they need faster and with much less effort.

Typeahead and Content Grouping

Typeahead and content grouping became a dynamic duo in the fight for superior content delivery. Previously, a query for “hip” would show a list of all possible results with “hip surgery” first, an unsettling thought for someone looking for help. Is hip surgery my only option?

Now Lucidworks’ typeahead functionality updates suggested pages as the patient types, grouped by content type. With each keystroke, a list with potential result matches refreshes in a pop-up window below the searchbox. Perhaps the patient searching for “hip” is looking for a physician profile. Is it Dr. Hippolyte or Dr. Hip-Flores? Or is he after information on treatments available for hip problems? Or maybe conditions related to the hips? By grouping content by type, results are presented in a rational, easy-to-understand format.

Northwell Health type ahead
Complex medical terminology is easier to navigate since patients can eliminate some results based on content type. He knows he’s looking for a procedure related to the hip so can rule out a result for “ankylosing spondylitis” (a hip ailment rather than a procedure) without having to click the link to learn more.

Future State

As Northwell gets more sophisticated with its usage of Lucidworks’ search capabilities, signals and machine learning will be used to boost content and further automate relevancy. Adding synonyms manually won’t be necessary anymore since signals will use machine learning to make the connections between queries and relevant content automatically.

Signals will also populate CTAs within the search results so the number of clicks required to complete a conversion will be reduced. Right from search results, patients will be able to “schedule an appointment,” “call a doctor,” or “purchase an event ticket.”

Using AI, Lucidworks’ misspelling detection feature will map words that are spelled incorrectly to their corrected spellings rather than returning no results to a query. Faceted search will give more flexibility to the way patients can use the site.

Out of the Park

By looking outside of the medical industry for inspiration, Northwell Health enabled its patients with a retail-caliber online experience, far surpassing the capabilities of its competitors’ websites. When December rolled around—the season it usually ripped out and replaced its website like an old band aid—the technical team, instead, continued tuning its search and adding features to more closely reach parity with top digital commerce enterprises. Its patients, meanwhile, were busy browsing treatments, favoriting doctors, and booking appointments with the click of a button.

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“Why should our patients completely change their search behavior just because we’re healthcare and not Amazon, Costco, or Walmart?”

-Mike Salogub, Business Analyst, Digital Strategy & Innovation, Northwell Health

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