It has been a long time since FDA did much to its website. Being such a large and diverse agency, managing the site cannot be an easy thing. Aesthetics apart, just keeping track of pathways and names can be overwhelming and it is easy to lose track of what needs to be updated when things change. For example, one pathway to get to Warning Letters from the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) still listed that office by its former name from changed in 2011, the Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications (DDMAC). In addition, there were multiple pathways to get to some information. The information regarding advisory committees might seem straightforward initially but when one began navigating it, it was anything but.
But FDA has attempted more than just putting its (website) house in order, it also remodeled not only functionality, but the way it looks as well. The new site is much cleaner – the layout is far less busy and crowded and the look is much more contemporary. Just the other day I was wondering when they were going to get rid of that tired old picture of an advisory committee meeting and poof, it is gone.
So I am not a website expert, but I do work in communications and of course, am a frequent user of the site. Here are some takeaways:
- User/Consumer Friendliness is Improved – FDA stated that one of the goals was to make the site more friendly to consumers and it certainly is an improvement. While the former site ran banner photos of some topical interest, the new site landing page features a topic with a large photo array that is focused on a feature topic. To get to the information, you need to click on the box announcing the feature, not the photos. Key to success for this approach will be topics that change out frequently as well as the topics themselves. This month’s is about children and allergy relief. Certainly topical given the time of year and the number of children, but perhaps not as serious as the recall of blood pressure medications. This approach may be more consumer friendly than the old site for sure, but the execution will tell just how much so. In fact, each division – Drugs, Food, Medical Devices has “featured information” that generally mirrors the FDA landing page (though stylistically there is not consistency across all divisions in terms of layout). For FDA to achieve its consumer friendly goal here they will have to work at providing information that is of interest to consumers and not necessarily just focus on that information FDA wants most to talk about.
- Longer, Less Crowded Landing Page – It used to be when you went to FDA’s landing page, you had a LOT of information crammed into the screen offering you pathways in a bunch of different directions at once – from links to speeches to advisory committee information to meetings information to the latest press releases, etc. All of that is still on the landing page, but it is more coherently laid out. That means that there is less splashed in your face on the screen, but the content has been elongated – and you now have to scroll down to find all the bits and pieces. That may not be entirely apparent to some. As you scroll down, you come to additional featured topics beyond the main one mentioned above. Right now one of them includes a link to information about the revamp of the site; a link to information about combatting opioids and one on FDA fostering drug competition. As noted above, these topics fall a little more into the category of things FDA may want to say versus the things we want to hear more about from a consumer perspective. As you scroll down, you come to press announcements (where curiously the title of the section is in smaller type than the titles of the most recent press releases). Scrolling down further takes you past many of the links that were formerly crammed into the landing square of the old site. It is almost all still there, just there more for your leisurely scrolling rather than in your face. But not everything is on the landing page. For that you need the next section.
- Menu Function is Key – In the upper right hand corner is the Menu Function. You are going to need this as it is the key to providing you a one-size fits all access to various divisions of the agency. It takes you to a site-map-lite that is actually very helpful if there are some specific things you want to look up. Most notably on the left side are a list of “featured links”. These are vital. They take you not only to guidance documents, but also one is the link that gets you to Advisory Committee information — to the page that is set up for each committee containing such information as the committee roster and meeting notices as well as documents related to specific meetings. To the right of this menu you will also find access to the FDA’s divisions, though it is not called that – instead it is called “Products”. Under that heading you will not see links to “CDER”, “CBER” or the others and where is the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion? Actually CDER, CBER and the others are there, but they are not called that. They are under their generic names (haha) – Drugs, Food, Medical Devices, Radiation-Emitting Products, etc. FDA may want to consider adding the acronyms here. These pages are generally laid out in similar fashion to the initial agency landing page, with a heading that is meant to cover topical information, prompting the user to scroll down to find the bits desired. Here you will find a link as you travel down the page to the Warning and Untitled Letters issued (still only one issued this year so far). The link to the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion exists but not on this page – it is under the About FDA Tab, and then drilling down through organizational structure through CDER there before you find it – here.
- Finding Specifics Related to Function in the About FDA Link – One thing you don’t see when you go to the Drug page or the Food page or any of the other division pages is a map for getting to where you want to go within that division (hence the lack of an OPDP link from the Drugs Page). To find that level of detail – to find a specific office that does a specific function, you may have to either conduct a Search (which can offer up a messy slew of links) or go to the About FDA link mentioned above. Here’s the thing – that is in very small letters at the very bottom of the landing page. It is a small, obscure link to an important function. They may want to think about elevating that one up to the top of the page, and making it a little more prominent.
All in all, as noted above, it looks a heck of a lot better and the navigation is less confusing now that everything is removed from a single frame shot. The order of things as you scroll down is pretty logical, though the demarcation of sections is subtle. It was certainly due for a change. Of note, if you have links to FDA materials at any site, some of the material may have shifted. On my own tab on Social Media and FDA, the guidance links appear to be in tact, but other links will need to be updated.