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Improving outcomes at the National Health and Human Services Summit

This past week, I attended the National Health and Human Services Summit in Arlington, VA. Over the past three years, I have met and worked with many state Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies across the United States. Through my work with these agencies, I have encountered a common goal is “improving outcomes.” What this means is ensuring constituents are served in the best possible way, and the focus of this conference was no different.

During the summit, I discussed with attendees the best ways to improve outcomes and discovered there are many ways to achieve this goal. For example, it could be better training for your staff, new strategies to connect and communicate with citizens, improved data, better technology, and the list goes on and on. One of the most critical ways that HHS agencies are looking to improve outcomes is by investing in technology. Personally, I have noticed a shift in the mindset of the agencies I work with. Specifically, it has become apparent that agencies are focused on modularity, agility, and strategic fixes for quick wins when it comes to investing in technology. 

I think there are several benefits to this new mindset surrounding technology within HHS agencies. First, the agency is not stuck embarking on a multi-year project with a fixed cost and set deadline (that is often missed). Secondly, it gives the agencies the flexibility to pivot as new needs or challenges arise. Finally, and I think most importantly, it means that 20 years from now public sector technology will not be in the same place where it is today. This means most agencies are currently in the process of migrating from a 20+ year old system that is extremely costly to maintain and frustrating for its users. New technology and techniques for design and project management will allow flexibility for tweaks to systems that can make significant impacts, without needing a complete system replacement.

The reason for this increased focus on technology among HHS organizations, is that Child Welfare agencies and the Administration for Children and Families have prioritized newer more effective systems with CCWIS (Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System). Additionally, they have prioritized a focus on data quality for these new systems, because they want data to drive the decisions made in Child Welfare. You need the ability to make effective decisions to successfully operate as an agency, but these decisions need to be based on data you can trust. Unfortunately, many agencies may think the step of implementing an effective data quality plan and technology to support it unnecessary. In addition, data has historically been understood to fall under IT’s responsibilities, but in reality, it’s up to the entire agency to implement an effective data quality program. This is because accurate data will be the foundation for agency initiatives like BI, Analytics, AI, conversion/migration. Given the increased focus on data quality for CCWIS, it seems like we will start to see many other HHS agencies focusing on this as well.

Overall, the National Health and Human Services Summit was a valuable conference where I had the opportunity to network with HHS agencies across the country. I’m excited to continue to work in this space in the future and hopeful about the changes that are to come!

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