In times of crisis such as the Coronavirus pandemic, or natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, support services for citizens are stretched to maximum capacity very quickly. Whether it's the national health service, or community support groups, in extraordinary times there are calls for volunteers to provide help in their local community.
HelpToHealth is a highly scalable online platform for Care Organisations to rapidly recruit, connect and educate local volunteers in their community. It complements processes and systems already used by those organisations, and is designed to ensure that the health and wellbeing of volunteers is maintained throughout extended periods of volunteer service.
When a request for care is received by a Care Organisation through their normal channels, they decide if that request requires specialist care and can be fulfilled by their staff, or if a volunteer could provide the care to preserve scarce Care Organisation resources.
To find a suitable volunteer, they use HelpToHealth to see which volunteers are willing to provide that type of care, are nearest to the Careseeker, and available at the required time. Of these volunteers, they can allocate the care assignment to the one that has been utilised less than average. This ensures that no single volunteer is overworked which might negatively affect their long-term health and wellbeing.
The chosen volunteer is then dispatched to provide the care, with access to the training and support materials they received when they registered as a volunteer. In addition to providing the care that was requested, the volunteer completes an interactive checklist that assesses the health and wellbeing of the care seeker.
When the care has been completed, the volunteer notifies the care organisation and passes on any concerns flagged by the health and wellbeing checklist.
User Persona Workflows
How we built it
Our application was split into two components, the Front End which was created in Angular. Our back-end was a RESTful API developed using AspNetCore. Both components were hosted on Azure App Services to ensure they were scalable. Our data source was a SQL Server also deployed to Azure.
We also made use of Googles' Distance Matrix API to calculate the distance between volunteers and potential care recipients.
We split the development process into roles, with a solo developer working on the API, two developers working on the Front End/Ux and our project coordinator guiding the overall process & working out the critical path and scope of the solution.
Challenges we ran into
One of the challenges (due to time constraints) was how we would verify that someone was actually a Care Organisation when they signed up to register. Our solution to this was to make the verification and sign up of Care Organisations be an admin's responsibility in the MVP.
Another challenge we encountered was finding appropriate training resources for volunteer caregivers. For the prototype MVP we decided to link to existing online resources as indicative samples; in the production version Care Organisations will add training resources relevant to the type of care they offer.
A further challenge was ensuring that our application could handle large volumes of simultaneous users. We resolved this by hosting both our front end and Api in Azure app services, meaning they could be easily scaled up or down as needed.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Fast Registration of Volunteer Caregivers to Speed Onboarding Time
The onboarding process for a volunteer is simple, guided, and quick to complete. The volunteer provides standard registration details, their location, when they are able to provide care and what types of care they are willing to provide. The HelpToHealth system then guides them through the relevant training material.
Volunteer Self-Care As A Founding Design Principle
When the Care Organisation is deciding which volunteer should be assigned a care assignment, they are informed with a simple metric that indicates if that volunteer has provided more care than average, less than average or about the same as their peers in the same location. This data is provided to the care organisation so they can minimise the impact on their volunteers' health and wellbeing by inadvertantly assigning all care requests to one or two volunteers.
To ensure that volunteers don't feel out of their comfort zone when delivering care, they are asked to state their preference of the care they want to provide as part of the registration process. At the same time they are also asked about their availability so they will not be asked to provide care when they are unable to do so, e.g. when performing home-schooling of their children or other family commitments.
When on assignment, the Volunteer is fully guided through the caregiving process, which is based on the suite of online training materials they received when they registered. These training materials, flowcharts etc. give the volunteer confidence that they are giving the care required and that all care seekers receive a consistently high level of care.
Online Volunteer Training
We decided that it was important to be able to give volunteers basic care training within our application.
For this prototype we linked to external expert resources. For a production system, each care organisation would add the training material relevant to the type of care they supply to the community.
A production system would also have the capability to monitor if a volunteer had completed the training. HelpToHealth would prevent a care organisation from allocating care assignments to volunteers that had not completed the relevant training.
The Use of Data to Match Care Requests with the Most Appropriate Volunteer Caregivers
During the current crisis, travel restrictions have been a large part of our reaction to help stop the spread of covid-19. Care professionals are permitted to travel to provide services to care seekers but at a greater risk to themselves. The HelpToHealth system was developed as a way for those professional Care Organisations to find volunteers that are located close to care seekers to carry out assignments.
Care organisations find appropriate volunteers by logging into the HelpToHealth system and typing in the address of the care seeker. The HelpToHealth system returns a list of available volunteers and their proximity to the address entered. The list of volunteers returned includes key information such as the distance relative to the careseeker, the types of care they’re willing to perform, their availability and the volunteer's recent utilisation compared with their peers in the same area.
Zero impact of HelpToHealth on a Care Organisation's Existing Systems and Processes
The HelpToHealth system is designed to augment existing systems and processes, including the initial contact by care seekers and the despatch of specialised care that canot be performed by volunteers. This means there is no disruption to the proven processes already in place, but adds additional caregiving capacity through the use of volunteers, while reserving scarce specialist resources for the cases that need them. The Care Organisation need only make use of the HelpToHealth system when they require additional help from volunteers.
Quick Onboarding of Care Organisation users
We estimate that it takes less than 10 minutes for Care Organisation users to learn how to search for a volunteer that matches a care request.
Customisable to Meet The Care Services Offered By the Care Organisation
The list of care types that a volunteer can register to provide can be quickly customised to suit the care organisation, as can the training material provided to volunteers. It is suitable for use by public, private and voluntary/charity care organisations.
What we learnt
One of the things we learned during our initial analysis of the problem space is the lack of ability to connect professional carers with individuals which might want to help out. Therefore one of the key aims of our solution was designed around providing a method for making that initial connection.
We also learned that there are some solutions that are available on a local geographical basis. This made us decide that our solution should be accessible and usable by anyone, anywhere on a global scale.
We had briefly used Angular before but not to this extent before. The team members had some experience around cloud hosting but rarely with this quick a turnaround. We also learnt more in depth about collaberation on GitHub rather than just hosting your own projects or using the collaberation tools we're used to.
Business Plans and Marketing
The developers on the team were given exposer to marketing that we might not otherwise have had. This involves coming up with business plans and getting in the mind of the different personas involved in the solution.
To advance the prototype to a more production-ready state we would:
- Implement a robust security mechanism to store personal data
- Invite public, private and voluntary/charity care organisations and volunteer caregivers to get involved with the next phase of development
- Implement a limited trial run to begin a customer feedback loop
- Provide the ability to track the status of volunteer assignments through the application
- Create a user-friendly UX for mobile devices
- Enable In-app communication between a Volunteer Caregiver and the appropriate Care Organisations
- Provide online registration for Care Organisations
- Provide capability to quickly localise the language of the entire application