Small Tweaks Can Result in Big Savings for Government Health Data

Guest Editorial by Neal Smith, Director, User Experience and Agile Delivery, Salient CRGT

Recently I made a number of visits to a variety of medical professionals during a three-month time period for my annual round of checkups and tests.

As someone who works in the data analytics field, one thing that caught my attention as I made this journey was the many sources of data and number of collection points.

And it wasn’t just my trip through this medical maze that made me think about how the medical field is awash in data; this journey is multiplied many times by countless others making similar visits to medical professionals.

The data collected is not only necessary for doctors, lab technicians and insurers to name a few, but researchers are also using this data to make predictive assessments that enable better care and inform us about lifestyle or other risks that affect our health.

One outstanding issue that still has yet to be solved is that this data is not standardized across the medical field, making it difficult to ensure accuracy and wasting valuable time correlating data.

Commercial finance

The lack of standardized data a problem, while government workers from state agencies to federal workers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Social Security Administration (SSA) as well as other agencies are also wading knee deep in this daunting pool of data overload.

Many core federal and state systems processing this data are decades old and present significant usability and security challenges.

When workers have to work in inefficient ways, they tend to introduce shortcuts that have proven over and over to be the root cause of many security breaches.

Driven by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) over the past three years, agencies have invested billions of dollars in modernizing and building new systems.

These new systems provide modern user experiences, are more secure and have dashboards for quick analytical looks into the data. For example, federal research firm Govini indicates there has been a 34% increase in IT spending at HHS from FY 2011 to FY 2015.

Upgrading “Legacy” Systems

Source: IT

As the political tide has turned however, there is still much to do. Future budgets will seek to save money and pressure will be applied to any major improvement plans.

Yet, close to 80% of the spending will be in maintaining older systems – and these are the ones that are used by the back office: management and government regulation personnel.

These are the systems that lose paperwork or cause delays in processing our inquiries.

These are the systems that are used for evaluating credentials of health care providers, or used to determine if workers have the proper security for the work they do.

Small Changes = Big Savings and More Efficiencies

As companies determine their outlays for the new year, giving attention to budgeting money for operations and maintenance would put old systems on par with new systems.

Our Salient CRGT User Experience (UX) team has seen many of these older systems and the lessons are clear: often with just a small investment, significant benefits can be achieved.

Since these older systems affect so many workers, small improvements make large returns. For example, we found one customer’s system used by 650,000 contractors and employees caused a 45-second delay, mostly due to confusion.

The fix was simple, the savings huge.

(Salient CRGT provides Agile software development, data analytics, mobility, cyber security and infrastructure solutions. We support these core capabilities with full lifecycle IT services and training—to help our customers meet critical goals for pivotal missions. We are purpose built for IT transformation supporting federal civilian, defense, homeland, and intelligence agencies, as well as Fortune 1000 companies. Courtesy of YouTube)

For health care workers in the federal government, these fixes and upgrades are even more critical. They struggle with too much data that is often compiled and presented in disorganized and clunky ways.

But they must make sure millions of transactions are processed accurately and in a timely manner. Too often, their tools get in the way.

The answer to this is to combine the disciplines of Data Analysis, User Experience Design – and especially Cyber Security. Using these three in concert, identifying the elements of these legacy systems that need to be addressed becomes apparent. It doesn’t need to be expensive.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Make testing with real users a part of any maintenance effort. User testing in real time will find 85% of the issues in a system.
  • Use maintenance money to embed analytics into applications so that the system passively gathers both usability data and potentially cyber security data.

Use data analysis techniques to mine this trove of data for the high priority needs. I am confident that the data will shock most people.

They will see how much data is extracted from systems and passed around in unsecure ways. They will see huge delays in systems because users are confused and stumbling over poor design.


If we need to save money in times of tightening budgets, we cannot ignore these techniques that will focus efforts on the areas of greatest need.

They will transform the way health providers use technology to gain insight and make informed decisions. Big savings and greater efficiencies are often the result of even small changes.

About the Author:

Neal Smith is the Director, of User Experience and Agile Delivery at Salient CRGT

With over 22 years as a technology and business consultant, Neal brings innovation and clarity to business challenges. He has spent the past six years in Federal IT services, and has the ability to speak in plain language about issues leading to better understanding of how businesses using technology can adopt, grow and change to address their core issues.

Salient CRGT provides Agile software development, data analytics, mobility, cyber security and infrastructure solutions.