Improving early intervention: Overcoming the top five challenges
The health care industry in 2021 will be unlike any other year. In 2020, we dealt with the pandemic—managing a sudden increase in patients, along with increased data and insights from the new virus. This year, we’re focused on looking towards the future, using lessons from the pandemic to improve health care innovations.
As someone with experience in Early Intervention (EI)—both personally and professionally—I’ve started to reflect on how these lessons could be used to improve case management, access to service and EI overall. Data, processes and access still remain largely unchanged, even as many other health care services become digitized. Digital transformation will be important for overcoming the top challenges that EI is facing in 2021.
Challenge No. 1: Remaining paper-based in a digital time
One core issue is unequal digital transformation. Although public health systems may have technology-based workflows or databases, digitization has yet to transform the entire process. This means that core workflows are interrupted by outdated processes. Important data can be lost, incomplete or structured incorrectly when transferred from paper to digital and back again. This results in delays, errors, or inaccurate reporting and results.
To overcome this challenge, better systems are needed to ingest, standardize and report data, with digital processes aimed at reducing human error. Integrated systems from point of referral to eligibility to transition can help create accurate, actionable data. When data is manually ingested, it can be incorrect and incomplete, making it unusable for reporting and identifying trends. These systems are also not scalable, as they require manual labor that burdens workers and agencies. With data management systems, data ingestion and standardization are automated. This reduces manual efforts and errors and improves analytics and reporting capabilities.
Challenge No. 2: Transitioning from individualized family service plan (IFSP) to individual education plan (IEP)
Unfortunately, disparate systems managing the steps throughout a child’s education pathway leads to important information being lost. This means that overall trends may be missed, but also that critical information about each child is not integrated into their education plan.
Formalized systems are needed to ensure that therapy plans are on track and timelines are met for transitions to early childhood. Reporting is a challenge for organizations, as it requires time-consuming manual efforts that could be better invested elsewhere. Instead, we encourage the organic capturing of information and data throughout the process, helping people understand where they stand within the transition progression. Access to this information can be shared among agencies and with parents to ensure targets are being met for transition timelines. There’s also the ability to integrate solutions with local education agencies to share information throughout every stage of a child’s education.
Challenge No. 3: Professional development
States and local governments are beginning to look for ways to support the development of their EI and early education professionals through training and education. They’re looking for platforms that can track and share opportunities for professional development across states and organizations. Effective platforms can ensure wider access to professional development or workforce innovation. They also want the capacity to recognize employees that are seeking out opportunities for continual development. Finally, states want the ability to cross-reference professional development trends with what is happening with the children’s outcomes at the EI programs. The solution is to create an integrated platform that captures the data from EI professional development and allows users to see how this relates to the outcomes for children that are in that region.
Challenge No. 4: Equity
Facilities, mental health services, resources, access, equality, diversity—these are some of the issues faced by EI management. These challenges were highlighted throughout the pandemic as children contended with telehealth and the struggle to access important EI services. The pandemic amplified the issues facing communities with disproportionate economic and access challenges.
States that are seeking solutions to address these challenges need to look towards new systems, but also need to know how to leverage innovation. This involves educating parents and guardians on how to use and enroll in EI services, but also how to recognize that their child may need these services. For example, New Jersey recently introduced the equity in education initiative, aimed at providing parents with language and resources to address their child’s specific challenges. There’s also a need for local education agencies and school districts to improve transition processes. Using data-driven approaches, governments can understand where inequalities lie, and how to suggest and create possible solutions that target those areas, looking towards other states that are successfully improving EI equity.
Challenge No. 5: Consumer access
In light of the pandemic, access has become an important issue, but even as far back as 1981, the National Institutes of Health agency was discussing how access can define the consumers’ relationship with services. More recently, the challenge is how to keep parents and guardians informed about what is happening with their child during treatment. Although they cannot always be physically present at every session, parents and guardians want full access to what happens to understand and track their child’s milestones.
COVID has helped us realize that there are options for parents’ and guardians’ access to EI staff and services virtually. Portals can help parents access basic case information—helping them see and update inaccuracies, provide consent, and even review availability or accessibility of the services that would benefit their children. With digital solutions in the programs, notes, data, successes and efforts can all be shared with parents and guardians to ensure that they know and understand the progress their child is making.
The future is data. Capturing organic data provides better insights while supporting improved policy decisions. By ensuring that the right people have access to the right data, it creates connections and allows for process improvement. This means that governments need to focus on improving the digitization process for EI—from referral to intake to transition. Not only will this improve processes, access, and equity, it will also ensure that all children needing EI receive the best care for their unique challenges.
Ted Hill, senior vice president at SSG, is a project manager with 20 years of experience directing and managing operations and logistics. Leveraging that experience, Ted has been the Operations and Maintenance project manager for the successful launch and operation of the 2015 Commonwealth healthcare exchange (HIX/IES) as required under the Affordable Care Act. His skill sets and experience enable him to pro-actively ensure effective implementation of systems while realizing cost and cycle time improvements.