A simple, clear, and organized digital roadmap portal that helps constituents identify their care needs and presents personalized, local care options that accept Medicaid and/or serve the uninsured.
How do we help constituents of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) — those enrolled in Medicaid and the uninsured — better access substance use and mental health treatment services?
Given the broad nature of the prompt, and the fact that DHS had no prior research informing the approach to this problem, we knew this project would come with a unique set of challenges. Some of these included:
1. Due to the confidentiality requirements of the project, we were not permitted to interact with DHS constituents directly.
2. DHS serves over 200,000 constituents and has a network of thousands of providers, with no centralization or coordination in place.
3. Since DHS is not directly involved in the treatment of constituents, we would not be doing site visits to observe relevant operations related to mental health & substance use treatment.
4. Mental health, substance use, and access to healthcare are complex topics that are more relevant today than ever before.
With these factors in mind, we crafted an empathy-based, creative and thorough research process to best set us up for success.
In order to provide a comprehensive solution, we needed to first identify the project scope and familiarize ourselves with DHS’s resource offerings. We have conducted secondary research, literature reviews, and meeting with the client to establish contextual background. We also conducted interviews with community partners at 3 different local organizations, such as BRIDGE Outreach, RIvER Clinic, and Allegheny Health Network.
Based on our research, we found that the frequent utilizers of the service in Allegheny County:
are age 35 or older
had accessed a non-crisis mental health service in the year prior to the first crisis mental health service
Although we were able to glean valuable information from our research, interviews, and partnership with DHS, our biggest challenge was understanding the typical journey of constituents not in crisis, as that information was not easily identified in our research. For this reason, we opted not to create constituent personas, as we feared we would unintentionally alienate and/or misrepresent certain constituents. Instead, we aimed to create a solution that would be broad enough to be inclusive, while also resolving the issues at hand.
Based on our research, we also found three main pain points that faced by the constituents not in crisis.
Lack of centralized platform for finding care/providers
Complicated care search process results in reliance on referrals from friends and family/community members
DHS resources are not currently widely accessible/well-known to constituents
Based on our key findings, we asked ourselves “How might we…”
Provide centralized and well-organized information to constituents in need?
Remove roadblocks to accessing care for those who need it most?
Further develop existing DHS solutions in order to increase visibility of treatment options?
A clear and organized digital roadmap portal that identifies constituent care needs (for those not in crisis) and presents personalized, local care options that accept Medicaid and/or serve the uninsured.
A intuitive and easy way for constituent to filter their desired care options.
A marketing campaign to increase the accessibility of the new portal and service.
We initially created a digital roadmap for constituent to utilize the filters to select what type of service they were seeking, their insurance, meeting preferences, and provider identity preferences. Based on their selections, the constituent would then be matched with local providers who fit their insurance and preference requirements.
After discuss with our client, we learned that the main issue with our initial design is that the filter options relied on the constituent to have a knowledge of their needs (i.e. identifying their Depression) which they don’t necessarily have the vocabulary for.
Alex had the great suggestion of changing our filter terminology to be less symptom-focused and more focused on broader feelings. He also suggested replacing the filters with a questionnaire to get a better sense of constituent needs.
Our final iteration took inspiration from DHS’s Mental Health Screening, which does a great job of framing questions. However, one drawback of the Screening is that it does not match constituents with care options. In our solution, The assessment would end with a “care match” page, thus accomplishing our goal of improving upon existing DHS solutions.
01. Digital Assistant
We designed a digital assistant feature for our home page, to answer questions in real time. This feature was created to bring a sense of partnership to our solution, as many constituents rely on friends and family for referrals during the care search process. It is intended to add an element of sophistication to the portal while also serving as a single source of truth.
02. Care Assessment
We designed a series of questions to assist constituents in identifying their care needs. Since most constituents likely lack the vocabulary to proactively identify specific symptoms, we phrased the options in broader terms that focus on feelings, in hopes of more effectively suggesting DHS resources.
03. “How To Get There”
We designed an “Explore Transit” page to enable constituents to locate care locations more easily. We also included a ride/walk duration feature to help constituents better plan their journey and thus increase chances of getting to appointments.
We also created marketing flyers with QR codes that can be distributed to local partners, such as public libraries, community centers, and brick-and-mortar treatment locations. We also envision these being advertised at bus stops and on buses themselves.
Moodboard and Color Palette
We wanted to evoke a sense of Pittsburgh community in our design, which informed our color palette choices. Based on the above reference images, we created a new color palette to better represent Pittsburgh’s community. We used yellow as our primary color, which also matches the DHS website homepage. We also created several accent colors to make our design more cheerful and dynamic. Lastly, we created two color palettes, one dark, one light, to allow for readability and appropriate contrast balance on the website.
We wanted our logo to speak for itself, and to be easily recognizable. The map refers to the concept of the digital roadmap, and the heart represents care. We created it in Adobe illustrator. The font used is Ubuntu in Bold. The color is Teal, Hex #419F9B. We also created another version of the logo to use on dark backgrounds, such as the bottom of our homepage and marketing flyers. Teal, Hex #419F9B.
We wanted to bring a sense of warmth and approachability to an otherwise sterile and tedious process. For this reason, we opted to hand draw our illustrations instead of using stock imagery and vector graphics. We both felt that our illustrations should exist to reinforce the messaging in our body copy, so that constituents of all language and reading abilities could interact with and understand the concept of our solution.
The illustrations were drawn by me in Procreate with the Mercury brush. The stroke style was used to create a more organic and bespoke image. The people were drawn with neutrality in mind, in hopes of conveying inclusivity. The message here is one of partnership and hope.
Our type system consists of two variations of Ubuntu (regular and medium). Ubuntu is sans-serif, uses OpenType features and is manually hinted for clarity on desktop and mobile computing screens.
We hope to collaborate with care providers and treatment centers in the future so that constituents can schedule appointments in the portal, making it a true one-stop shop. This would also allow constituents to speak with a human if they wanted to, as they could call care providers directly.
We intend to design a “print” button on the “Explore Transit” page to allow constituents to have physical copies of directions, especially if they don’t readily have internet access.
We plan to include additional “tags” under the care provider profiles that will allow constituents to further customize their care experience. We would include tags that filter race, gender, identity, etc., which are proven to impact treatment success and longevity, especially among black constituents.
Currently, our existing solution did not take “urgency” into consideration. We hope to add an additional feature for constituents in crisis to maximize chances of successfully getting treatment. For example, if a constituent stated that they were experiencing suicidal ideation, they would immediately receive a message with the suicide and crisis lifeline number and instruction to seek care immediately.
Working on this project is such a challenging but fulfilling experiences for me. As an international student coming to the States for the first time, it is hard for me to conduct research on a topic that involved different social and cultural aspects.
I learned to communicate with different stakeholders to understand the problem more holistically.
I learned to think from the perspective of different demographic groups, to design experiences in a more empathic and comprehensive way.
I improved my skills in communicating ideas through illustrations and delivering a more consistent visual design system.
Lastly, I really appreciated my teammate Annie. She explained the insurance and medical system and social background here to me at the beginning of the project, which made me familiar with this topic faster. We had a really great time working together. We learned to collaborate efficiently by dividing the tasks based on our expertise and work effectively by setting our weekly goals and prioritizing the tasks.