A ‘triage’ approach to increasing help to those in most urgent need

A ‘triage’ approach to increasing help to those in most urgent need

In the second part of her blog, Jemima Stevens dives deeper into the Digital team’s recommendations for implementing a triage system. This approach is a way to prioritise users based on how urgently they need our one-to-one advice.

Missed Part One of Jemima’s blog? Catch up on how a discovery phase process helped transform our helpline and webchat services.

The discovery project

In summer 2021, a team formed of Shelter staff and an external agency, carried out a discovery project. Our goal was to understand whether a triage system would be an effective way to manage the high demand for our one-to-one advice services.

Here’s what we found out:

The outcome

We found the case for implementing a triage system to prioritise service users convincing. Our research showed us that triaging could increase the number of high priority users we help. This is carried out by pulling them to the front of the queue.

It could also increase the overall number of users helped:

  • by allowing us to assess users’ needs and make sure they are prioritised accurately
  • by reducing contact time
  • make increasing use of digital advice on our website
  • provide the choice of alternative advice channels

Implementing a triage system over the top of the helpline and webchat systems could support people who need advice in a fairier and more efficient way.

It can do this by: 

  • categorising people through simple questions into emergency versus non-emergency cases
  • pulling emergency cases to the front of the queue. And directing non-emergency ones to use the website with tailored page suggestions
  • collecting key user information before an interaction and presenting this to advisors as the call starts. This will make sure users don’t have to retell their story. It reduces potential stress or trauma because they won’t have to repeat themselves
  • improving employee wellbeing and training outcomes by controlling the numbers of complex, high-stress emergency calls someone takes in a day 

These are top line examples taken from the 160 recommendations contained in our final report.

How will we implement these things?

Given the potential impact of the recommendations, key aspects need testing to make sure they have the desired outcome.

Each feature of the triage concept needs to be designed in its most simple form and then tested with end users. The results from these tests will decide if it works for users. It will also help us decide how we approach the technical delivery.

The aim is that we only build something that meets the needs of our service users and internal teams, saving time and money in the long term. 

Triage will be implemented by a collaboration of Digital and Services teams.

The project is broken down into three phases: 

First six months of the project

Short-term work and quick wins that can be implemented without extensive consultation or complex changes.  

6 –12 months after phase above (18 months in total)

Medium-term improvements or ‘alpha trials’ improvement. This requires more resource commitment, but are not yet implementing a full system.

6 –12 months after phase above (30 months in total)

Live system trials or ‘beta trials’. Longer-term recommendations that commit significant resource. For example, full triage implementation.

What next?

Now we are co-designing a set of priority levels with stakeholders across the Services directorate. This is to make sure our designs are used in an ethical, inclusive and accessible way across our channels.

We aim to define and test a decision tree which will be used to direct users to the right service for support. As we have already created an existing decision-based tool, we can apply some of the learnings to help frame our initial thinking.

Find out more

Our Service Designer Monika Most will be discussing this process in more detail in the next blog.