Human services agencies are facing unprecedented challenges brought about by the ongoing fiscal crisis. As their resources are shrinking, employees are stretched beyond their capacity by the growing number of citizens seeking public assistance through programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid and HUD Section 8.
“Many human services workers view technology as a barrier to client interaction,” says Dr. Adrian Aguilera of the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. Many shun technology advancements, such as mobile devices, despite the fact that such tools can actually simplify client relationship management. In addition, mobile devices, including laptops and tablets, can help human services caseworkers increase their efficiency as they adjust to higher caseloads.
Driven by Paperwork
Human services workers are plagued by paperwork, including multiple intake forms and copies of documents such as birth certificates and drivers’ licenses. Field-based caseworkers are doubly challenged—they must juggle this paperwork while simultaneously managing a high load of field visits and on-site investigations.
Chief Deputy Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services Duane Berger told the Center for Digital Government (PDF) that caseworkers interview clients, then hand write or record their notes for later transcription and electronic submission into client files (PDF). At the end of the day, they squeeze in a trip to the office to track down information they weren’t able to access during visits, file and update paperwork and enter information gathered in the field into case management databases.
Streamline Workflow, Reduce Paperwork
In human services fieldwork, tablets and laptops give caseworkers the ability to streamline their workflow and reduce paperwork. They eliminate the need to carry and fill out paper forms and other documents by providing in-field access to case management systems. Plus, they allow workers to scan documents into the system using built-in cameras, and input data from the field instead of the office.
Tablets feature built-in recorders that reduce note taking and make recording interviews less intrusive—a critical consideration in interviewing children. In addition, voice-to-text applications eliminate transcription time.
Mobile devices can also help human services workers make more informed and immediate decisions by giving them real-time access to a client’s case history. For example, they can access safety information (PDF) about the home or person they’re visiting to avoid potentially dangerous situations. They can also use applications and databases that allow them to share knowledge with their clients, such as the side effects of mental health drugs.
Who’s Doing It?
Here are three examples of agencies that are using mobile devices to improve caseworker productivity:
- Ventura County, Calif. Human Services Agency’s Children and Family Services Department (PDF). I wrote in a previous post about county caseworkers that use tablets in child abuse and neglect investigations, home visits and other field work.
- Michigan Department of Human Services (page 13 of PDF). Michigan is providing lightweight laptops with cameras for videoconferences as well as smartphones to all of its 2,200 caseworkers. Management realized this was not so much a mobile strategy as properly equipping their employees to facilitate their mobility.
- The Florida Department of Children and Families (page 104 of PDF). Florida equipped 2,300 caseworkers with smartphones and laptops with built-in cameras. Using remote data capture, caseworkers take digital images that immediately upload to the state’s child welfare online system, cataloging the date, time and location.
Tell us how you use mobile devices in your agency by leaving us a comment, or visit our public sector solutions page to learn more on how Lenovo is enabling government employees to be more productive.
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