Usability and Health Insurance websites

Finally, a piece on a subject that I want to write more about and something I do a fair bit of work in at my day job, design and usability. The good thing about usability is that it covers things that makes sense to a lot of people, not just techies, and that’s the user friendliness of things we use from day-to-day. In this case, websites.

I went to my health insurer’s website to try and find out what I’m paying $50+ per month for, and I left feeling more than irritated.


Health insurance websites are something that I’ve had intimate experience with (not that kind of intimate), with Glass Onion maintaining a strong relationship with their client Australian Health Management (ahm). A lengthy Information Architecture process was followed by a major design stream in which I was directly responsible for the design of a large number of unique templates, and then I oversaw the coding of these templates (front-end XHTML and CSS), making sure to adhere to best practices.

One major differentiator I found with this web site from those of ahm’s competitors is that they have built a site that focused on their existing members, and not solely focused on attracting new customers. This means good service to members, resulting in better customer retention (less churn). This has been reflected by their site being rated the leader in their sector by a significant margin, and equal first across all sectors Australia-wide, according Global Reviews, an independent reviewer of consumer websites. (The rankings are here.)

Medibank Private

That high standard sets a benchmark, and unfortunately this makes it hard for others to keep up. I visited my health insurer’s site – Medibank Private – to get some information on their preferred dentists, to save some money (I’ve been quoted for *over a thousand dollars* for wisdom teeth extractions and “deep cleaning” at the swanky place I go to, and I KNOW I can get the work done for hundreds of dollars cheaper without resorting to student dentists). Anyway, after hitting Medibank’s site, I’m going to have to give Medibank Private’s website two thumbs down.

To be fair, the visual design is clean and quite smart. Though I do think their older and less sighted users will struggle with the text size AND the fact that you can’t resize the text in Internet Explorer. I’m not going to even touch the outdated table-based code they’ve used… (The design treatment also looks distinctly like one of their competitors…)

Here are the major issues I ran into that I’d like to point out:

  • When you register, you select your password, but you are assigned a 7 digit login ID. Can I tell you how much I hate this? It’s not even a username I selected. Better yet, why not just use my email address. I won’t forget that easily, but this arbitrary 7 digit number business is an annoyance to the average user, especially if you use the web from different locations, like home, work, etc.
  • On top of that, if you forget the user number, you must start a new registration to use the site. I would just as well not bother, really. The ideal would be to use the users email address as their login ID.
  • I didn’t bother writing my user number down as I expected it to be sent via email as a confirmation. Sites with member sections should just do this without question. In this case, the site said it would send the registration information by email but I didn’t realise it would be 2 hours later! So the site logged me out after 2 minutes or so of inactivity but didn’t email me the login details for 2 hours. I assume they do the emails using a batch process, or there was some glitch in the system. Either way, a royal pain for the user. How about an instant response?
  • I tried to find what I could claim under my plan. This was very difficult. I ended up going to the “Download Brochures” section, downloading a PDF version of their printed materials. What’s worse, it seems as though the name of my plan has changed, so at best it was guesswork, as I couldn’t find any reference to the old plan name.
  • I then thought I would go back to the main site for non-members to see if the information could be found there. Once logged in, there is no way to get back to the public home page without logging out. This site gives me the impression that now they have secured my monthly payments, they don’t want me know what I can claim, saving them money. Intentional or not, this doesn’t make me think very highly of Medibank Private’s member services. Not a good thing, knowing that the rate of churn is so high in this industry, and that switching insurers is not a very hard thing to do at all. Another fund immediately comes to mind… Perhaps some rethinking in the information architecture department is in order?
  • Lastly I did a search for dentists. I entered my postcode for work, and for home. Both came up with no matches. This was particularly badly developed, as working in East Sydney, I know there are many dentists around, and there’d have to be at least a few nearby that are preferred by my health insurer. The problem here is if there isn’t an exact postcode match, it returns zero results. What it should do is a radius search, showing all results within a say 5 or 10km radius. This takes a little more work to develop (we did this for the Pizza Hut and KFC store locators) but makes such searches so much more useful.

These are some usability issues for Medibank Private that make the site a pain to use as a member, and could do with some improvement. It’s not aimed as an attack on anyone involved, but just as some honest user feedback with a few ideas for addressing those issues. These issues are also common to many other sites. I know as much as anyone that it’s impossible to perfect everything but an improved user experience is something to continually aim for in order to build the friendliest site possible. Some sites have further to go than others…


  1. I agree man, I hate these f###ing web sites, I spent about 5 minutes just looking for Optus’ phone number the other day (I gave up… do they not want a valued customer to call???) … How is this good for business?

    Anyway that KFC locator sounds cool, do you think you could devise something that makes my phone beep a certain tune when I come within 100m of a KFC store?, that would be awesome!

  2. Yes! Optus’ site is a prime example. Megs was trying to find the phone number to recharge her account. It took some time to find it let me tell you!

    Hmm… KFC jingle when you are in range, an interesting thought. Convenient for some, a nightmare for others! Although, I guess if it was permission based, there’d be at least a few very happy KFC junkies…

  3. You Gotcha real nice blog