If you need health services, but you are worried about the cost, where do you go? Where do you apply? Who do you talk to? Who is offering financial support, and do I qualify? This is a complicated problem that people often experience, which is why AFFORDABLE is designing systems to address this issue.
AFFORDABLE’s solution is direct: archive programs offering free services or financial aid into one portal for discovery and selection, then consolidating all the applications into a simple 1-click submission. What appears to be a simple concept on the surface, is actually a interesting software design challenge. Finding effective ways to bring all these programs in one interface is what University of Maryland (UMD) students approached with the senior software engineering course offered by Professor Jim Purtilo. Purtilo presents open ended software design challenges that push students technical skills and creativity to build innovative solutions.
The overall assessment of the challenge at hand was that networking with a spectrum of large and small organizations will require large flexibility in how applicant information is sent and received. This can be accomplished in three ways
- Host your financial aid grant directly in AFFORDABLE
- Create a webhook to allow charities to “listen” to new incoming applicant data
- Send applicant data to charities via their hosted application user interface
Two teams at UMD focused on finding ways to send applicant data to programs that are external to the AFFORDABLE system (outlined in 2 & 3). One team, named the Team Integration, focused on creating tools that would allow charities to accept new data from users looking at their programs. They wanted this tool to be approachable with customization options for smaller charities. The team consisted of five people: Matthew Dolinka, Jonathan Chiik, Erich Hoene, Emeka Okeke, and Christopher Cichielo.
First, they took advantage of the AFFORDABLE user registration information. This is a form that consolidates >90% of questions asked by charities. This provides a baseline data set that charities would receive of their applicants. They the created API codes that allow organizations to receive applicant data when new submissions selected by users. However, it is impossible to collect all the information that charities or health organizations would need for their operations. Thus, they created a form tool that would allow groups to add in unique questions that may be important for their programs. The purpose here was to reduce any barriers to having a charity link their system up to AFFORDABLE.
But what about charities that don’t have any technology infrastructure? Charities that do not have any software engineers or IT departments? They don’t have any technology stack to integrate this data into, but they certainly represent an important part of community support. To make AFFORDABLE even more accessible, the Integration Team used Zapier. Zapier is a software tool for integrating and automating common software tools, such as email, excel, or google apps (https://zapier.com/ ). The team created the ability for groups that have simple computer use abilities to create an application and accept AFFORDABLE applicant data through their Zapier account. For example, they can set up their account such that they get reports of new applicants applying to their program in an excel spreadsheet. Overall, their software provided various options for smaller organizations to join the AFFORDABLE community by listing their programs and receiving new applicant information.
What about large charities with large endowments that have heavily invested in their software stack and technology infrastructure. What incentive do they have to invest time into accepting AFFORDABLE’s applicant data? Do they even want more applicants when there are even more than they can help? AFFORDABLE needs a way to send the applicants information through the applications already existing online. This was the challenge of the UMD Automation Team consisting of John Wescott, Gregory Ducq, Benson Sebastian, Sean Young, Chidi Udeze, Hongru (Nick) Lin.
The team wanted to find a way to take the data that is available in the database from the users registration information, and automatically place it inside the charity’s online application. Their solution was to build a tool that would take a users submission click that would initiate a bot that would take their data and automatically transpose that information into the charity’s forms and hit submit. The issue here was that this took a lot of individualized effort by software engineers to create these bots for each program. This task could become even more time consuming for complicated branching applications. They built upon this approach by creating an accessible automation tool that would generate the application automation code…automatically! This browser tool could be operated by any user that can use a computer. This would allow any AFFORDABLE volunteer to write “code” that would send applicant data to any big charity from around the country and list them in the AFFORDABLE archive of available programs. While their process does take some training, they created a detailed user guide to bridge that gap as much as possible.
The tools created by these UMD teams provide a foundation for allowing charities to have it their way. The ability to have a common application in AFFORDABLE that can be integrated with current charity programs requires a user friendly experience that allows organizations to work in their established framework. Whether it’s using software technicians to set their databases to listen for new applicants, receiving a spreadsheet of new applicants in Zapier, or placing applicant data in their existing charity forms, AFFORDABLE is a step closer to supporting a simple one-click submission system for people looking for healthcare support.
We want to congratulate the success of these UMD teams in creating solutions to these complex software challenges. We also want to thank Professor Purtilo for supporting and designing a program that allows our charity and students to work together in approaching software challenges and foster career development. Their efforts have brought AFFORDABLE one step closer to bridging the gap between healthcare support and the people in need.