Makeover Matches New Look With New Features

Improved Layout, Text-to-Audio, Exercise Animations Among Enhancements

November 02, 2011 05:50 pm Cindy Borgmeyer

With cold and flu season ramping up, it's hard to imagine a better time for the launch of the newly redesigned As patients begin flocking to the Academy's award-winning patient education website to find out what's likely causing their sniffles and body aches, the site boasts a number of enhancements they'll see and experience.

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  • ReadSpeaker is a text-to-audio tool that allows visually impaired users and those with limited health literacy to listen to the site's content in English or Spanish. This feature may be accessed by clicking on the speaker icon near the top of each page. Users can adjust the sound level and even the speed at which the material is read.
  • Rehabilitation exercise animations have been added, leaving no uncertainty in patients' minds about how to properly perform these activities.
  • "Questions to Ask Your Doctor" is a new feature that accompanies each disease and health condition described on the site. When viewing a page on asthma, for example, the user simply clicks on a box on the right side of the page to view a list of queries he or she can pose at the next doctor's office visit.
  • The entire website is now "mobile-friendly," so users are no longer tied to their computers -- they can take the site's patient education information with them on their mobile devices wherever they go.

Other changes to the revamped go right to the heart of how visitors interact with the site. The site's overall design, according to Managing Editor Angelike Gaunt, was spurred largely by research results that showed women are the primary users of "They look for information for themselves, but also for their young children and teens and for their aging parents," Gaunt told AAFP News Now.

"We also had the goal of making the site mirror the specialty of family medicine, which treats individuals from birth to their senior years," she added. "This is the reason why there are specific sections for newborns, kids, teens and seniors."

Story Highlights

  • The newly redesigned boasts a number of enhancements visitors to the website will see and experience.
  • Based on usability studies conducted with both AAFP members and patients, the site's health and wellness information now is grouped together under user-friendly headings and categories.
  • A new text-to-audio tool, rehabilitation exercise animations and a "Questions to Ask Your Doctor" feature have been added.

Another user-friendly modification: Visitors to the site now can search for information about various health conditions by name of the ailment, patient age or symptoms. Searching by age brings up a list of conditions that may be experienced by patients of a certain age range. If patients search by symptom, an algorithm is displayed that walks them through a series of questions about what symptoms they're experiencing to help narrow the likely diagnosis and advise them how best to proceed.

Another key finding from's research was that patients don't all learn by the same methods, said Gaunt. "They like to read the information, but they often like to watch how-to videos about procedures that their doctor prescribes.

"So, for example, patients want to know how to use an inhaler correctly or what to expect if they are going to have a colonoscopy or how to do a stretch exercise to help them recover from plantar fasciitis. We have already added rehab exercise animations to the site and plan to add videos about common preventive tests and procedures, such as mammography and colonoscopy, to the site in the next few months."

As for some of the website's tried-and-true features -- they're still there. Family physicians can print off patient education information about specific conditions to send home with patients, for example. But now, they can choose to print off only one particular article section -- perhaps information on asthma causes and risk factors -- or they can print the entire asthma article -- from overview to prevention -- simply by clicking on the appropriate printing option near the top of each page.

The Healthcare Management section that appears prominently on the site's home page features content previously included in the Smart Patient Guide section and is intended to empower users to participate in decisions related to their health care, said Gaunt. "That section includes information about how patients can work with their doctor to get optimal care, how they can take charge of their own health, how to look for health information on the Web, how to deal with insurance issues and medical bills," and similar information, she noted.

The Drug Info section of the site also includes previously vetted content that is based specifically on patient feedback, Gaunt explained. Many patient users of the site said during usability testing that they typically want to look up more information about medications their doctor may prescribe to find out about possible side effects and other issues.