The Problem with Healthcare

Of course there are many problems with healthcare these days, many deep systemic underlying problems. These problems manifest themselves in the unusability of user/human/patient facing services like insurance provider websites such as Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield. Indulge with me in the following infuriating experience.

I am looking for a doctor for an annual checkup. There is a website on my insurance card:, so I go there.

I am really confused at this point, I don’t know what I will get if I register and, I thought I was a registered member by receiving my insurance card. What do I do on this site? What is a guest pass? What will I get if I sign up. This is unhelpful to me, and I do not want to sign in to find a provider, so I look elsewhere.

I search Regence Blue Cross California and find this site: perhaps this will help me find a doctor near me.

find a provider

This site still wants you to be a member. I am not quite sure what this means, and my insurance card is not blue. I do try to enter the letters from my ID number into the ID field and receive this message:

“We could not find your prefix. Please enter the 3 first letters from your ID card, or search as guest. If you believe you have received this message in error, please contact the customer service number located on your membership materials or ID card.”

OK, so I will search as a guest. I click on the guest tab and am presented with 5 options disguised as 3:


I am not a healthcare expert, and I have a hard time keeping up with all the acronyms that exist these days. I have no idea what these choices mean. I look at my insurance card and somewhere in the group name there is the string “PPO” so I’ll pick that option. This takes me to a search page. This looks pretty helpful:

find a doctor

Upon use it proves to be relatively confusing.

I enter my zip code, and next it asks me what hospital or doctor name I am looking for. I don’t know! That is why I came to the site in the first place, to find a doctor!! OR, I can specify a provider type. These types are relatively cryptic to me. I am looking for a general practice doctor or womens health specialist, but this isn’t an option, so I’ll choose “Doctor and Other Healthcare Professionals”

This gives me a list of doctors with various specialties, not a general practice doctor. What’s more, when I click on their names to find out more information about them, such as what clinic they work with or more specific information about their specialties, I find no more information than their gender, their age and their medical school.

search results

Also, Clinics seem to be sprinkled in among the doctor results, similarly providing very little information about the types of doctors that practice there or the type of clinic they are.

I will try a different method of search to find an appropriate doctor. I go back to try a different search. This time I choose the “specialty” tab. I type my zip code and “women” into the search field. it auto populates with “womens issues”

womens issues

This is not exactly what I mean to search for, but perhaps this category will help me find some doctors who specialize in women’s health.

The results I am presented with infuriate me. Every result under my “Women’s issues” search is a psychologist, marriage psych or other counselor of some sort. I am so frustrated at this point I feel like Steve Krug‘s Miserable Participant:


I am ready to jump ship. In fact, I do. I go to twitter and express how unhappy this experience has made me. I also resort to the good old fashioned way of finding helpful services. I ask my community.

I am not sure if there are any other insurance providers who are doing a better job. It seems to me that the website at is organized according to the internal divisions and categories of the company. This is a place where some significant research can be done on user’s mental models of health care search and service. There are a multitude of things this site could provide for me, but unfortunately, Regence is designing for the buyer (employers, most often) but not the end user. They have failed here in executing human centered design, and succeeded only in raising my blood pressure.

A simple usability test would address many of these issues, but I think the problem lies deeper and requires significant contextual and ethnographic research to understand how people think of health care vis a vis their insurance provider and what they are attempting to do when they come to the site… if they can find the correct site.

Some questions this experience raised for me:

How do people categorize the doctors they need and know about?
How do people think about healthcare?
How do people currently experience healthcare?
How do people find doctors?
What do people need from an insurance company?
What does the insurance company need from the patients (not the buyer of the plan).
What do purchasers of health care plans need from their insurance company?
What information do people need to make an informed decision about the doctor they see?
What information is critical for RBCBS to have in order to help me find a provider?
Am I the only one who is this frustrated?


About calliewheeler

Callie is an enthusiastic proponent of user centered design and usability research and discovery. Her passions lie in social entrepreneurship and experience design.

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