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The anal probe of Healthcare.gov continues with agency representatives involved in developing and building the site appearing before a congressional hearing to answer questions about the glitches in performance and site requirements.

Some interesting UX revelations thus far:

Features are now basic expectations: 
On two separate occasions different congressional representatives referred to online giant Amazon (and Ebay) stating: 1) Product comparison on Amazon is not as difficult as it is on Healthcare.gov, and 2) Amazon doesn’t crash the week before Christmas under the heavy load of users on the site.

1) Comparison capabilities. Amazon practically invented the ecommerce we know today. Once a feature, product comparison has now become a basic expectation of retail sites. Healthcare.gov has it, but it’s “difficult” to use comparatively. The UX side of me wants to know what portion of the experience made it “difficult to compare” insurance plans compared to the experience of comparing TVs on Amazon.com.

2) Obviously a working website is beyond a basic expectation. But in Healthcare.gov defense, Amazon didn’t launch less than 30 days ago to tens of thousands of users. And, despite ramping up, websites will get glitchy when there is heavy user traffic. Case in point: First day of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale–trust me, they learned when no one could  check out online a few years back. Never did go back and buy my shoes.

I think an even more logical comparison scenario would be to try merge Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Macy’s, Zappos, Best Buy, and Apple into one ecommerce website and launch the day before Black Friday.

Last minute requirements/unnecessary hurdles:
Apparently, it was a “last-minute” requirement to make users create accounts prior to being able to browse insurance products. OMG. Why, why, why? That’s the equivalent of making users create an account to browse ANY ecommerce site.  I would have punched the individual who mandated that. (Or the closest wall.) Can you imagine the shit-storm that created in the contractor ranks? The whole site was more or less bogged down due to concurrent registration. Fortunately, it’s been updated so that users can “window shop” insurance products without having to create an account first. Thank goodness. 

Business as usual:
Congressional members seem to be fairly alarmed that one or more of the agency representatives are looking at the website problems as just another day in the realm of website launches of this nature (aggressive deadlines, last minute requirements, multiple vendors, numerous database reconciliations, millions of lines of code to test, etc).

In her prepared testimony, Cheryl Campbell (of CGI) said that “unfortunately, in systems this complex with so many concurrent users, it is not unusual to discover problems that need to be addressed once the software goes into a live production environment.”

“This is true regardless of the level of formal end-to-end performance testing — no amount of testing within reasonable time limits can adequately replicate a live environment of this nature,” she added.

Notably, many Republicans equated the problem-plagued website to a failure of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) itself. As Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas stated, “Obamacare is coming apart at the seams and it’s time to put this broken law to rest.”

As a UX professional, I will concede that a poor user experience can negatively affect  brand perception in the mind of the user. But, as a UX professional that has seen the launch of many sites and interactive experiences, I confidently state there are always small glitches or scenarios that only reveal themselves, despite all the user flows, scenarios, Q/A and testing you do. Not to mention clients with last minute requests. (Anyone who says otherwise is lying.) Unfortunately for Healthcare.gov, this isn’t just any site. Not with people’s livelihood in play, as well as  political theater and re-elections in the balance as well.

And while the site is getting “easier” to navigate and glitches are being addressed, politics are still involved. Which means the entire nation is now getting an education on how websites projects are often managed, designed, tested,and developed. For better or worse.

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