Posted Thursday, May 27, 2021 by Rupam Chokshi

Not Your Average Electronic Document Management System

When you think about the term “electronic document management” in human services, what comes to mind? Converting paper-based case files to digital ones that you simply scan and store in an electronic filing cabinet? Maybe some basic workflows built in to help automate processes?

I’ve worked in document management for almost two decades now. Technology has changed drastically. Most electronic document management systems (EDMS) available to human services agencies have evolved, yet they still haven’t quite kept pace with agencies’ needs.

For example, many are still built using outdated, complex folder structures that make information hard to find. Others are simpler, but they aren’t designed around how caseworkers do their job and cause friction in key eligibility determination processes.


Northwoods, on the other hand, is committed to leveraging modern technology that not only allows caseworkers to bring documents into the system, but also fosters collaboration and information exchange so that caseworkers have everything they need to help clients move forward on their path to self-sufficiency. (Related resource: Foundation for the Future: Modernizing Electronic Document Management Systems)

Agencies are now acutely aware of the technology gap that COVID-19 illuminated.

In fact, GovTech Navigator’s latest health and human services vertical report says document management is one of the top three areas of increased importance for HHS organizations in 2021. Similar, digitizing documentation and moving away from paper is noted as one of the biggest IT modernization opportunities.

The problem and opportunity have been defined, and now it’s time to do something about it. We’re here to help.

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Evaluating Your Current EDMS: What’s Missing?

Not all EDMS are created equal. Whether you’re still on paper or using a basic EDMS, there’s a good chance your current tools and processes have not kept pace with your needs. Consider these questions to identify potential gaps or bottlenecks in your current system.

How is information collected?

Think about all the ways documents, forms, and other data enters your agency. For example, a client can submit documents via email, fax, customer portal, or self-scan station in the lobby, or a caseworker fills out and uploads a new form. It’s necessary to give clients multiple channels to engage the agency, but without proper technology in place, this can create a lot of extra manual work for caseworkers.

Think about it this way: once information enters the agency, how many steps or handoffs are required before it’s verified and stored? Outdated systems often require multiple workers, multiple steps, and a lot of time and paper to get all this information in the same place. New technology can help streamline these processes and automatically funnel multiple different input channels into one workstream.

How often are documents or files misplaced?

Human error is inevitable. Without proper tools, documents can get filed incorrectly and case files can get lost or misplaced. For starters, this creates duplicate work, forcing caseworkers to recreate documents that are too cumbersome to find or collect the same information multiple times.

This slows down eligibility determination and delays vulnerable clients from receiving the benefits they need. It also increases the chance for high error-rates when your agency gets audited. With the right tools in place, however, you can reduce manual data entry and the possibility that these types of errors are made.

How quickly can caseworkers access information?

Caseworkers need to access clients’ information instantly, simultaneously, and from anywhere—something that’s next to impossible when relying on paper or an antiquated EDMS that’s only available when working in the office. 

Too often, only one person can access a file at a time, which greatly slows down workers’ ability to move the case forward. Additionally, many systems still force workers to wait until the end of a case to scan and file their documents (also known as archival scanning). That means they don’t have access to information while they’re working the case, which is when they need it the most.

Modern solutions make case and client data immediately available to all workers electronically as soon as it’s scanned into the system—meaning caseworkers can instantly access accurate, up-to-date, quality client records. Plus, being able to access this information during the eligibility determination process leads to the most significant efficiency gains.

How can workers use the information to help others?

Making information accessible is important but making it useable is the difference between whether your agency is successful at empowering caseworkers to lead benefits recipients down the path toward self-sufficiency.

For example, caseworkers should be able to easily see that the right verification (like a driver’s license) is attached to an application so they can process it quickly. Similarly, they should be able to extract the client’s story from their applications or documentation to identify and help them access all the services they’re eligible for, not just the one they’re seeking out.

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What Elevates Your EDMS to the Next Level?

On top of making it easier to collect and view documents and files, the right tool will have some additional functionality built in to help you make sense of information and use it to help others. It will bring relevant information to you instead of you having to go out and look for it.

Features like these will make information more searchable, discoverable, and useable:

Consolidate data from multiple points of entry.

Think about external data sources like the statewide eligibility system, various drop-off mechanisms (e.g., mail, email, or fax) or another document management system.

Your EDMS should pull data from all these various sources so that your workers don’t have to waste precious time tracking it down themselves or sort through different formats in which the data has come in. Beyond converging input sources, an enhanced EDMS should also automatically import, tag, and deliver the document in specific workstreams.

Context-aware content capture.

Documents, forms, photos, and other content should be automatically connected/tagged to the client and/or case. For example, when a caseworker is scanning a document, they should be able to launch the process from the case or person page so that the EDMS knows who to connect it to.

Not only does this save caseworkers’ time and keep the case file organized, but also makes collaboration easier because everyone has confidence that information has been stored where it should be. Plus, avoiding manual data entry means less chances for error.

Multiple ways to find and filter case content.

The entire case file should be searchable so that caseworkers can quickly and easily find what they need, even without knowing exactly which document contains the information they’re looking for.

Caseworkers should be able to find and filter by date, entity type, or full text search to surface the content that’s most relevant. An advanced EDMS will also understand program-specific and process-specific filtering needs.

Advanced categorization and retrieval.

Caseworkers need a way to quickly recognize what documents and data points are missing from a case file to keep it moving forward (for example, trying to process a Medicaid application without the right proof of income attached).

A more advanced EDMS automates the comparison of the list of received documents with the list of required documents to generate a list of missing documents for each case, all with a click of a button. It can also categorize something based on what it’s for, not just what it is, so caseworkers can easily understand why it’s there and quickly retrieve what they need.

Work management beyond workflows.

While many EDMS offer some form of workflow capabilities, the right one will go beyond the basics to include things like to-do lists and activity templates that help caseworkers complete applications within mandated timeframes.

For example, caseworkers should be able to quickly see a list of all required work for a case and easily determine what has been done already and what still needs to be completed.

Human services-specific taxonomy.

A taxonomy (or electronic filing structure) that’s designed specifically for human services is foundational to making it easier for caseworkers to find the right information at the right time, plus make sense of it in the context of your business so they can use it to help others.

This type of taxonomy takes into consideration the complex relationship between human services programs and makes it easier for caseworkers across program types to access the right documents. This improves customer service since clients don’t have to submit the same documents twice, while maintaining necessary security protocols for cross-program information sharing.

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Just having an electronic case file is no longer enough. If you plan to modernize or move away from paper, don’t settle for an outdated EDMS that still requires redundant, repetitive processes to gather, understand, and use information. Instead, look for technology that will help caseworkers find the story behind someone’s need for assistance so they can provide holistic care to every individual who needs it.

Rupam Chokshi believes that technology should always be rooted in solving problems. It is through this lens that Rupam approaches his role as director of market research, where he oversees market analysis and segmentation, product positioning and strategy, messaging and persona development, and competitive intelligence. Rupam takes pride in helping build solutions that solve HHS workers’ most critical problems and empower them to focus on the most important aspect of their jobs—their clients.

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