Building and Maintaining a Quality Health Department Website

Aug 6, 2012, 2:27 PM

At last month’s NACCHO 2012 conference, Susan Feinberg, MPH, communications specialist with the Cambridge Public Health Department in Massachusetts, led a discussion on the importance of a strong and reliable web presence for local health departments.

“Your site is the virtual face of your health department,” said Feinberg. “It’s your number one communications channel and anchor for everything you do.”

With more Americans relying on the web as their means of accessing resources and information, it’s more important than ever for local health departments to create and maintain sites that provide real benefits to the public. Among the aspects Feinberg highlighted, a quality health department website should help users locate services, provide a place to share feedback, as well as discuss how the department is using grants and funding.

A well-built department website provides many benefits to public health practitioners, as well, including streamlining permitting and licensing procedures, amplifying the reach of local staff and promoting credibility for the department.

When building local health department websites, many communities seek to model their online presence after “big city” sites. However, Feinberg warns that this is not always attainable or appropriate. The best health department websites are not always the flashiest, but the ones that provide users with information that is current and concise, guide users to the resources they want and need and reflect the unique vision and values of the individual health department and its surrounding community.

It’s also important to consider that many of the same traits that make common commercial websites popular and easy to use translate well into the public health sector. The website should be easy to navigate, professional and consistent in appearance, include functional and thoughtful use of images and graphics  and some manner of searchability, both internally and across the web via search engines to make the site easier to locate. Sites should also include links to other agencies, both local and Federal, that offer related  services and information and access to information in various languages, depending on community needs.

Feinberg also suggests local health departments make use of tracking and reporting tools, such as Google Analytics, to help monitor visits and growth trends, adding that the ultimate goal of a well-constructed health department website is to be “a trusted source for accurate and verifiable information.”

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.