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Nadworny: Vermont Health Dis-connect

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So here I am waiting more than 24 hours for help in changing my password on the Vermont Health Connect Web site. I tried signing up in the fall. After adding myself and preparing to add other members of my family, it turned out that I clicked on a button that made it impossible to add anyone else. Contacting support, I learned that it was impossible to revise my “application” and the only thing left for me to do was to delete it and wait three weeks to try again. Instead, I opted to continue my existing coverage for three months.

Three months later I’m trying again. Only now I can’t remember my password because Vermont Health Connect put restrictions on what characters I could use. Which meant I couldn’t use any of my usual passwords. And the clues to recover the password are no help: one step involves my birth weight and for the life of me I can’t remember how I put in pounds and ounces.

So I bite the bullet and call customer service. The person on the other end is “nice” but she can’t actually help me reset the password. The only thing she can do is to open a “ticket” so someone else can contact me later. But a day goes by and no one contacts me.

Just to change a password!

There are some minimal things all Web sites can do these days, including paying online and allowing people to change their passwords. Even financial institutions with high security are more efficient than the Vermont Health Connect. I’ve built a lot of Web sites over the years. But I’ve never experienced a Web site that functions as poorly as this one - to say nothing of the terrible user interface.

I support changes to the health care system, but I get why people are mad. And I’m dumfounded that our whole public health debate is being undermined by poor technology decisions.

It’s not that way in the U.K. In their new Government Digital Services division, a cabinet level group, they prioritize the needs of users - that is citizens - first. They create user-centric prototypes early on in the process. Technology and procurement always play a secondary, supportive role .

That’s the opposite of how the government builds digital products in the U.S. and in Vermont. It’s why so many those technology projects struggle and fail. To be fair, it’s why a lot of private technology projects fail too. It’s important to start with the people who need to use the system, in order to avoid increased trouble or increased cost.

To be clear: this is not a partisan problem. Democrats and Republicans are equally clueless when it comes to technology. And we health care consumers deserve a lot better.

But unless we start emulating the British system - or one very much like it – chances are that we’ll continue to be stuck with poor digital experiences like the ones we’re all living through right now, on sites like Vermont Health Connect.