By Ted Hill, Senior Vice President (SVP), SSG
For all its hardships, COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for state government employees in health and social services to digitally transform their programs for better health outcomes. The healthcare industry learned several valuable lessons while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which can be applied to improving the technology and systems used within the early intervention (EI) space. Going forward, healthcare and social services professionals at the state level can adapt many of these insights to improve their departments.
The key to all these new ideas is digitally transforming so data, processes and accessibility meet the “new normal” we’ve established over the past year. Now is the perfect time to improve procedures across the board and glean a silver lining from the dark cloud that has been COVID-19. What’s standing in the way? Here are the top three challenges we see to improving procedures and the best ways that state health and social services departments can overcome them:
Challenge #1: A paper-based legacy
Digital transformation involves transforming your paper files into digital ones and making the data more useful and usable. But many organizations have so many paper files and other legacy systems in place that digitization efforts are left incomplete. This unequal digital transformation results in core workflows being interrupted by outdated processes as people switch between digital and analog files. Important data can also be lost or structured incorrectly when jumping back and forth from paper to digital. All of this adds unnecessary delays and the potential for errors and inaccuracies in daily work.
When data is manually ingested, it can be incorrect and incomplete, making it unusable for reporting and identifying trends. These systems also are not scalable, as they require manual labor that burdens workers and agencies. Overcoming this challenge means employing better systems to digitize, standardize and report data while reducing human error. Integrated systems – from point of referral to eligibility to transition – can help create accurate and actionable data. With data management systems, data ingestion and standardization are automated to reduce manual efforts and errors while still improving analytics and reporting capabilities.
Challenge #2: Transitioning between plans and programs
The data and lessons gathered during a child’s years on an individualized family service plans (IFSP) are often lost when transitioning to an individualized education plan (IEP) once the child ages out of the IFSP. This happens because the IFSP and IEP are often created on different systems that don’t automatically integrate with one another, much to the frustration of EI and early childhood professionals. Not only does this mean repeating work already done as notes are recreated for the IEP, but it can be a disservice to the child as overall trends may be missed and critical information may not be integrated into their education plan.
Overcoming this EI challenge means adopting formalized systems to ensure that therapy plans are on track and timelines are met. The best way to do this is to adopt a cohesive system for IFSPs and IEPs that can integrate with local education agencies to share information throughout every stage of a child’s education.
Challenge #3: Ensuring equity
EI professionals know the challenge of providing equitable services to families from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. These challenges were highlighted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as access to technology played an important role in allowing for the remote communications that fueled telehealth, remote learning and more. EI service providers must be ready to educate parents and guardians on how to enroll in and use their services. This effort must include the providers being capable of quickly and easily capturing progress toward an outcome while providing e-health services. Meanwhile, local education agencies and school districts must adopt data-driven approaches to identify and eliminate inequalities.
The future is data
Digital transformation is key to overcoming these EI challenges. Now is the perfect time to embrace these innovations and bring systems in line with cutting edge practices. A fully digitized state health or social services department will benefit from improved processes, access and equity, ensuring that those needing EI receive the best care possible. The advances made to continue “life as usual” during the COVID-19 pandemic will form the basis of best practices in EI for years to come across all levels of state agencies.
Ted Hill is a senior vice president (SVP) at SSG, where he specializes in digital transformation and interoperability in the public health sector. He has successfully led a variety of IT initiatives, including early intervention, healthcare exchange (HIX) and MMIS, and manages programs that ensure the effective implementation of systems and business process innovation for the agencies SSG partners with. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in political science and government from MIT.