FedScoop: Why COVIDtests.gov worked where HealthCare.gov stumbled

“The Biden Administration launched COVIDtests.gov this week, and by most accounts, the site has performed well. While apartment dwellers have reported difficulties entering their information, these sorts of bugs are expected and don’t point to fundamental problems. It has exceeded expectations for a government website, handling large, nationwide demand and absorbing intense interest from a public eager for more resources to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic…”

“That the site would stay up amidst widespread attention was not a given. Many observers noted the parallels to the 2013 debut of HealthCare.gov: launching a new, high-profile, health-related website into a pressure-filled context with enormous scrutiny and public skepticism. (Disclosure: I was a member of the team that helped turn HealthCare.gov around and am now a contractor working on HealthCare.gov with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.)

So why did COVIDtests.gov work where HealthCare.gov stumbled? In these past eight years, the U.S. government has gained more experience building these kinds of services. Agencies have brought in the kind of guiding technical talent that can advise leadership, and teams are exercising better judgment around launches and operating websites…”

“What do we know about this new site? I took a deep dive into the architecture of COVIDtests.gov, and what I learned was that the team at USPS did not use their existing web properties, but built a new site for this purpose. They used products from Amazon Web Services (AWS), including content delivery networks for high-performance serving, reliable file storage for HTML and images, an API built with so-called ‘serverless’ functions, and a database that automatically scales with demand…”

“It’s also a remarkably simple site from a user-experience perspective. The user goes directly from the landing page to the order form. A few moments of entering information, a confirmation dialog box, and the order is submitted. The UI simplicity and architecture reinforce each other…”

“HealthCare.gov is the website for a means-tested program, and covidtests.gov is available to a much wider swath of the public, which does make for a simpler implementation. We can’t necessarily compare government programs apples-to-apples. However, were HealthCare.gov built from scratch today, its design would more resemble covidtests.gov than not…” Read the full article here.

Source: Why COVIDtests.gov worked where HealthCare.gov stumbled – By Paul Smith, January 20, 2022. FedScoop.

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