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Sam Manson

Opinion

12 October 2016

Making sense of complex care services through website redesign

With health and social care integration a priority for local authorities, the redesign of net-based resources which represent adult social care is an opportunity to make sense of an essential service.

Adult social care is a complex mixture of central government policy and local authority control, with public, voluntary, and private sector input - it was never going to be easy translating this conversation into understandable web content for actual users.

Recent Department of Health slogans conveying the transfer of control from impersonal institutions to ‘Capable communities and active citizens’ sound liberating, and personal care budgets can be progressive; but if the basic starting points – council websites – aren’t equipped to support this power shift, these initiatives are quickly translated as central government further distancing itself from social care.

From a strategic perspective, redesigning social care’s web portals would help councils to outline a taxonomy of core services. More importantly, user-friendly resources would at least begin to narrow the distance between councils and vulnerable communities, efficiently directing users to relevant contact numbers, rather than allowing them to wander aimlessly from site-to-site, before falling at the first hurdle.

Higher levels of accessibility were achieved across Gov.uk services via customer-centric GDS design patterns and standards, delivered by non-traditional service providers promoting agile development and lean ‘user feedback’ loops - acquired through the G-Cloud procurement framework.

However, these frameworks and standards aren’t mandated (but are available) for essential services in local government, resulting in a situation where paying your car tax is more user-friendly than finding details on Adult Social Care.

Those accessing information on adult social care often do so on behalf of vulnerable citizens; this can be family members, carers, the voluntary sector, or even brokers and advocacy services which help to direct the patient towards what they’re entitled to, and how to get it.

These brokerage and advocacy services are often funded by local authorities, and their growing importance as something of a correction mechanism indicates a flow of information which is far from perfect, needing additional layers to cut through the complexity.

An ‘adult social care’ Google search will bring up a host of differently designed sites from various councils across the UK and a series of mixed messages. Obviously service offerings from council-to-council vary, but the web portal to these services could be relatively consistent or benchmarked.

The integration of health and social care sounds like a prime opportunity to make the case for collaboration and GDS standards at a local level, with the potential to deliver a degree of uniformity, reductions in call handling costs, and reduced advocacy fees.

Building websites which map information clearly and simply is the tip of the social care iceberg, but that’s not to undermine their importance.

These websites tend to be the first port of call for vulnerable people looking to take charge of their lives and if some consistency was achieved, the vision of joined up health and social care could become a shade clearer.

This article was first published on techUK  as part of its Local Government Transformation campaign.

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