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Three Ways Technology Can Improve Service Integration


Introduction:  In autumn 2020, BMG welcomed MSW placement students from the University of Windsor. MSW student Eileen Lam conducted research and analysis on the barriers to effective service integration. We asked Eileen whether she felt technology might facilitate more integrated human service delivery. She offered the following insights. It does not necessarily reflect the views of BMG.

Technology can be terrifying when misunderstood, yet incredible when put to good use. It is a tool that we can shape and use to improve many aspects of people’s lives. What may seem incredibly complicated to a layperson, is really just a bunch of lines of coding to a programmer. Using algorithms and applications to match clients to services that directly impact their physical and mental well-being, for example, should take precedence in the technology sector. Creativity is needed to re-think existing systems, and that includes the role of technology in quality improvement.

  1. Shared Access to Data
    Client data should be centralized to them as the client, and not the agency. Whether shared access to data means utilizing cloud software for documents or shared electronic patient records, agencies and clients should not have to repeat themselves for basic information. For example, agencies of different sectors often have similar intake assessments, but are unable to easily access existing client records. Redundancy of this process can be frustrating for both the client and case worker, especially when appointments require the presence of entire families. Furthermore, for clients who have experienced trauma, having to retell this history multiple times has a direct impact on their well-being.

Agencies should be able to review relevant information to help their clients access services more efficiently. Noting the boundaries of the Personal Health Information Protection Act only bolsters the idea of using a client-centred approach to sharing data. This could look like a centralized consent form, or even using a QR code that is unique to the client to help agencies populate relevant information. Initiatives like InterRAI should be seriously considered when making changes to better integrate services. https://www.interrai.org/

  1. User Experience Design
    UX Design looks at interactions and interfaces from a client/user perspective. Webpages, user interactions, and entire systems are designed by asking questions from the client/user perspective. Using this approach would be beneficial from a myriad of perspectives for service integration. For the client, this could mean whether detailed information about service providers and the wait times are accessible on agency websites, for example. Client-focused questions might include: Is this easy to read? Does this show me all the available options? Can I customize my needs? Does it take into account all my personal information?

From a service provider perspective, the improvements to their own work flow would also have direct benefits to the client experience, as a result of a streamlined process. Questions might include: Is the referral form available digitally? Is there an automatic form checker to ensure that all fields have been completed and won’t be rejected? Has my client met all the eligibility criteria? Are appointments automatically scheduled or manually booked? Is the estimated time on the waiting list available?

These simple inquiries during a design process seem so obvious, but are often forgotten, highlighting the imperative to thoroughly consider the perspectives of those who our decisions directly impact, whether that is service delivery or entire framework overhauls.

  1. Apps
    “There’s an app for that”, is a common phrase when thinking of some of life’s most mundane queries. Many apps are simple tools, like tracking your steps or providing the weather forecast. However, when you think about your favourite coffee shop app, for example, not only can you order your favourite drink (from a pre-made list), you can ping the nearest cafe to your current location. It will even tell you how long it will take you to drive there, and how long the wait will be until your “extra-sweet-iced-caramel-macchiato-with-two-straws” is ready.  What seems as simple as ordering a drink, actually takes into account a number of variables. Couldn’t we apply these same principles to delivering services or building cross-sector partnerships? A case worker could use an app to assess eligibility, and then view nearby service providers, and availability. The app could even provide a user review section for agencies to assess feedback for accountability.

When considering how apps could play a role in service delivery and integration, one might heavily borrow from ideas couched in dating apps. The concept is rather similar: you connect two people (or a person and an agency) within a specified area vicinity, based on basic demographic information, preferences or needs, and even provide a seamless way to communicate. The possibilities are endless when you think outside of the box; you don’t even need to reinvent the wheel. Customized convenience, with the help of an algorithm. Technological assistance is the inevitable future, and creativity in its application will help streamline the process.

Written By: Eileen Lam, BMG Student Placement

Image Copyright: 123rf.com, Kheng Ho Toh

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