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How do you make a bad regulator even worse?

October 11, 2013|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Looking for information about your doctor? You're not even halfway there.
Looking for information about your doctor? You're not even halfway… (Los Angeles Times )

Redesign its website, that's how.

The Medical Board of California has been a pretty sorry regulator of the medical profession, as we've documented here and here. But its informational website for consumers looking to check out their doctors' credentials was pretty good: intuitive, direct and speedy.

No more. As of Tuesday, the board's consumer website has been folded in with one designed for the state's Department of Consumer Affairs, the board's parent agency. It's a disaster. It's confusing, misleading, unbelievably clunky and serves well as a definition of "user-unfriendly." The website program is labeled "BreEZe," the logo designed to suggest it's "E-Z." It's anything but. In the past, patients trying to find out if their M.D. had a disciplinary record with the board -- and trying to access that record -- had to navigate through, at most, five or six mouse clicks. Now it takes 11 or 12... if they can even follow the path.

This isn't the Medical Board's fault. It's the Department of Consumer Affairs' fault. "This is something consumers will probably have to get used to," says Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the department. He should stop right there. If you've created a consumer website that consumers "have to get used to," you've failed.

The consumer website, which now serves only the Medical Board and two other professional boards, will eventually encompass all 39 Department of Consumer Affairs board and bureaus. It was designed by Accenture on a $45-million contract. Heimerich says the agency hasn't yet accepted the website as a final project, so there's still a chance to get it right.

Here are a few things that are wrong. Patients entering the site by clicking on a button labeled "Check Your Doctor" on the Medical Board's homepage are first taken to a page of instructions on how to use the thing. That shouldn't be necessary. Click on "Continue Search," and there's another page of instructions.

Then you get to a page that makes it seem that you have to register, giving your name and other personal information, to continue. You don't but that's not at all clear. To find your doctor, you click on a link reading "Verify a license." You may not know what that means, but to the Department of Consumer Affairs it's the same as "Check Your Doctor." (Now you know.)

You're still seven or eight clicks from getting to your doctor's record. If you haven't given up. Website designers know that multiple clicks are an invitation to people to abandon a search. This website is an obstacle course.

The site is a mess because the Department of Consumer Affairs asked it to do too much. Heimerich says the agency's goal was to consolidate two functions into one site, combining the consumer search site with a separate website for agency licensees dealing with their own licenses. That invitation to register? That's for doctors and other professionals who want to apply, renew or pay for their licenses.

But there's no reason on Earth why the two sites should be folded together. Consumers checking on doctors will use the site rarely. They need a place where they can find information easily and intuitively. But that doesn't seem to have been on the minds of the website designers. As Heimerich acknowledges: "The BreEZe database is not primarily for providing look-up for consumers."

No kidding. BreEZe is a roadblock. Let's give the Department of Consumer Affairs and Accenture a new task: Design a website that is primarily for consumers.

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email.

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