Can mash-ups cure social service stove-pipes?

By John Moore
07:33 PM

Amid the economic downturn, a Web-based system that aims to simplify the task of applying for publicly funded health and social service programs has been inundated with applicants.

One-e-App, which was launched in 2004, has already served 2.2 million people in four states this year. That's up from about 1 million applicants a year ago. Bonnie Wilbur, director of application solutions at The Center to Promote HealthCare Access, the California-based non-profit which manages One-e-App, said the mission of expanding healthcare access is particularly pressing in difficult times.

"Our goal is to reach those people who don't have benefits, who don't have healthcare coverage, who are in trouble and at risk ... and try to get them coverage," she said. "Right now, that's critically important."

One-e-App was first deployed in San Mateo County, Calif., and now operates in 11 counties in the state. The system is also used statewide in Arizona, in two Maryland counties and in Marion County, Ind."the Indianapolismetro area.

Regardless of location, the principle remains the same: let families apply once for a range of services. The single, online application eliminates the need to visit multiple offices or navigate multiple Web sites.

The basic idea behind One-e-App is that much of the data required for one program applies to others as well. But to submit one application to multiple programs requires connections to multiple county and state legacy systems. Government agencies, however, often lack the time and financial resources to build a custom interface to One-e-App.

"Those systems are usually fairly under-funded and, as a result, they don't have the capacity to do a traditional interface," Wilbur explained.

The mash-up model
One-e-App pursues workarounds to link up with state and county systems. One approach to doing this is the "mash-up," which combines data from two sources into one application. The addition of Wikipedia articles to Google Maps is an example of a consumer-oriented mashup. But mash-ups may also serve as an enterprise integration tool, as is the case with One-e-App. The system uses mash-up technology from Denodo Technologies, as well as other tool suites, to enable access to legacy systems without having to build custom interfaces. Denodo provides a connection through which an applicant's data flows from One-e-App to the relevant health or social service system.

The mash-up approach speeds the task of adding new government entities and programs to One-e-App. "Imagine how long it would take to negotiate with each organization to agree upon a standard way of exchanging data," said Suresh Chandrasekaran, senior vice president, North America, Denodo. Wilbur said One-e-App can link to 38 health and social services systems. Within California, for example, One-e-App would first mash-up to a U.S. Postal Service database to verify an applicant's address and then tap a number of legacy systems. For a single parent with children, One-e-App could link to California's Child Health and Disability Program, the state's Single Point of Entry program for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families applicants, and the CalWIN system. The latter system supports the state's Medicaid, food stamps and temporary assistance to Needy Families program among others in 18 counties.

Next up for One-e-App: expanding public accessibility. When the system was first rolled out, application assistants working in clinics, hospitals and food banks had access to One-e-App and helped people through the application process. Now, applicants can access the system on their own, at home or at a public location such as a library.

One-e-App already is publicly accessible in Arizona, Wilbur said. The next area slated for public access is Fresno County, Calif.with the Los Angeles Unified School District to follow.