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Transforming Health and Human Services: Embracing Technology for Enhanced Customer Experiences

Updated: Feb 19

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In 2018, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) researched the advantages of incorporating technology in the Health and Human Services (HHS) sector. The report, titled “Improving Customer Services in Health and Human Services Through Technology,” outlines the potential role of technology in agencies dealing with programs for low-income families, emphasizing the benefits of modernizing eligibility determinations through tools such as online applications, electronic case files, and enrollment systems to enhance accuracy and efficiency.

Six years later the problem remains, yet technology still has the potential to be the necessary solution.

The report focuses on the impact of modernizing client-facing processes in HHS departments, addressing challenges faced in administering benefits like Medicaid, Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF). Technology can alleviate these challenges by streamlining processes, improving customer service, and enhancing outcomes.

Sample Case Study from CBPP Report

The Problem—The report identifies issues in an agency’s call center, including high call volume, leading to extended wait times, dropped calls, and customer complaints. This has prompted clients to seek in-person assistance, further straining staff resources. This pattern results in a cyclical increase in call volume as clients seek updates on their cases, impacting overall efficiency.

Suggested Solutions—The report suggests solutions, such as providing instant messaging, using chatbots, notifying callers of expected wait times, offering callbacks through the interactive voice recognition (IVR) phone system, and expanding online portal functionality for clients to report changes and check benefit status.

Technology as the Solution

Technology alone is not a solution, but rather a vital component when combined with changes to other aspects of the process. Best practices for web-based tools, mobile-based technology, and call center tools are discussed, highlighting user-centered design, integration with policies and operations, and the role of advocates. Artificial intelligence (AI) was suggested as a solution to reduce staff responsibilities for routine tasks, allowing staff to focus on complex tasks or innovation.

The recent advancements in AI add vast possibilities for the realm of education, government, law, and entertainment. Generative-AI systems such as advanced chatbots virtual assistants and language translation tools are already in widespread use. The Limbic Access chatbot is currently being used to refer patients to mental-health services through England’s National Health Service (NHS). The benefit of this chatbot is evident in the increased number of referrals among minority groups since the chatbot was available. During a three-month Limbic Access chatbot study, there was 179 percent increase in referrals among people who identify as nonbinary, 39 percent increase for Asian patients, and 40 percent for Black patients. The extra referrals did not increase waiting times or cause a reduction in the number of clinical assessments performed. The information the chatbot collected on the patients reduced the amount of time human clinicians needed to access patients. Limbic Access is only one example of the solutions supported by AI.

Case Study—Embracing AI in a Government Setting

Fast forward to February 2024—Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced plans for integrating AI into government operations, establishing core values and a strategic plan. Three key actions include

  • Forming an AI public advisory group

  • Creating an internal AI task force

  • Setting AI benchmarks with deadlines

The initiative prioritizes accessibility and aims to balance AI benefits with risk mitigation.

Conclusion

Embrace innovation.

As technology continues to rapidly advance, it’s important for agencies to embrace new options—to improve both efficiency and communication with clients.

—CBPP Report

The CBPP report encourages agencies to embrace innovation in response to rapid technological advancements, acknowledging potential challenges in implementation such as funding, staffing, and regulatory considerations. Despite these challenges, technologies can significantly improve customer and staff experiences, providing practical advice for effective implementation in government agencies.

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