Human Services Information Technology: A Shared System

Article excerpt

Introduction

A study of government service agencies and nonprofit agencies was performed to assess the array of services provided within Lake County, Indiana, to assess the information technology availability of human services providers throughout the specified area, the potential of incorporating data integration with the collaborative service providers, and to provide recommendations on alternatives for an integrated human service data system. This paper will focus on the technical aspects of integrating client and vendor data with multiple providers of services to the indigent.

Overview, a Four Phase Process

The project involved a joint venture of Purdue University Calumet and Indiana University Northwest in collaboration with Workforce Development Services of Lake County, Indiana and the Lake Area United Way. The investigators and their project team utilized a four-phase approach to complete their charge. Phase one required interviewing 87 human service providers to include government Township Trustees. The result of this phase enabled the team to identify who the providers of services are and what services they provide.

During phase two, an analysis of the information system capacity of human service providers across the county was performed, as well as an assessment of providers of state and local human service data systems.

In phase three, the investigators sifted through the information collected by the state and local human service providers to propose a minimal common dataset for potential use by all agencies in the County. This common dataset may satisfy a common intake protocol for all agencies.

Finally, in phase four, the delineation of a set of specifications for an integrated human service data system for those agencies surveyed was made. The specifications are based on Internet based technologies for use in the collection, sharing, and analysis of human services data.

Specifics of Phase I

One-hour interviews were held with 87 executive administrators and/or Information Technology (IT) officers within Lake County, Indiana. Over half of the agencies are classified as non-profit nonreligious organizations, with the rest being a representative sample (governmental, non-profit religious, and for profit) entities in Lake County. The following are approximate percents of the top ten areas of service by these agencies: 69% provide some form of case management, 30% provide some form of education and/or training, 25% provide an array of inpatient and/or outpatient mental health services, 21% provide services targeted to youth, 18% provide some form of emergency assistance, 16% provide medical or health related services, 13% provide shelter services and/or substance abuse services and recreation services, and 12% provide determination and eligibility assistance. Most providers indicated that they do share information with other agencies, after having their client/recipient sign a proper release of information form.

Specifics of Phase II

Assessing state and local information technology capacity and infrastructure determined that approximately 40% of the respondents indicated they had compiled an IT plan. Approximately 20% of providers indicated they had a dedicated IT staff. However 75% of the agencies that don't have a dedicated IT staff, indicated that they do have at least one person who spends some of their time on computer related functions. In addition, over 50% of the responding agencies indicated that they have Internet access, a Website, and an E-mail account. Client and demographic data analysis is performed by 77% of the reporting agencies. Their primary reason for this reporting is to conform to funding requirements, not for assessing client needs or improving program performance. Even though there is some preliminary documentation related to the proposed integration of IT systems, the State of Indiana has no formal plan in place for the integration of IT systems, using Internet-based technologies. …