Digital services are showing great promise helping agencies improve customer experience priorities from President Biden's 2021 executive order. For the millions who rely on benefits from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), digital services are helping improve critical processes and service delivery in the health care ecosystem.
"We must use technology to modernize government and implement services that are simple to use, accessible, equitable, protective, transparent, and responsive for all people of the United States," the executive order states. "Government must be held accountable for designing and delivering services with a focus on the actual experience of the people whom it is meant to serve."
Since the executive order, CMS has set goals to improve its online tools and expand support options across Medicaid and Medicare. Some of the recent projects at the agency include creating an in-network pharmacy finder, a tool that compares year-over-year coverage and redesigned homepages that improved accessibility.
The work spurred CMS to create in 2021 a dedicated digital service team comprising civil servants and leaders in industry and government leading digital transformation efforts with customer experience improvements top of mind.
“A lot of the work that we have been doing is helping the different components of CMS. So, helping the different centers and offices think about what skill sets they need and what activities they're going to do to improve customer experience,” Andrea Fletcher, chief digital strategy officer and director of the digital service team at CMS, told GovCIO Media & Research.
Fletcher said the team is examining different components and programs across CMS to ensure that customer experiences are consistent throughout health care for users.
“A lot of people's experience with the government is filling out paperwork, filling out a form, and it's a really unpleasant experience,” Fletcher said. “How do I get them excited about it, and can we do that with good design and good technology and good customer experience?”
Much of the experience principles the team is honing in on include accessibility and security.
“For example, [with improving websites] a lot of the work that we have been doing is around making them more secure for improving security and making them more accessible,” Fletcher said. “So making sure that people who are using screen readers or where English might not be their first language and they need plain language or are translating things into Spanish and other languages, making sure that they are thoughtfully designed for people with accessibility issues in order to improve the usage and the experience of them.”
In 2022, CMS released updates to Medicare.gov, which streamlines how Medicare resources and information is presented through a more user-friendly experience. The agency is continuing to accept feedback and plans for additional developments.
“CMS is making Medicare.gov easier to use and more helpful for people seeking to understand their Medicare coverage, which is an essential part of staying healthy,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in a May 18, 2022 press release. “We are committed to listening to the people we serve as we design and deliver new, personalized online resources and expanded customer support options for people with Medicare coverage and those who support them.”
In addition, CMS recently partnered with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to create Findsupport.gov, a new website that prioritizes mental health resources for those struggling with mental health, alcohol and drugs.
“People want to go to a website or download an app. They want the information to be understandable, they want it to be fast and user friendly. Expectations of the American people on what their experiences are for interacting with the federal government are the same that they have for any online service, and it's our job to help these services live up to those expectations,” Fletcher said during GovCIO Media & Research’s April 2023 Women Tech Leaders Summit.
Aside from websites, the CMS digital service team supports initiatives for a various of life experiences — bringing different agencies across the federal government together.
“We've been supporting [those who] are facing financial shock, particularly with the public health emergency unwinding, and verifying income,” Fletcher said. “Because people need health care, whenever they face financial shock. I think out of almost all the life experiences, health care is a major component — having a baby, you need health care; facing financial shock, you need health care; retiring, you need health care.”
As the team works to meet the various needs across the agency through digital tools, they are also trying to build the internal workforce to take on these projects.
“A lot of the budgeting that we are considering right now is how do we hire talent into CMS to support this kind of work? We need different skill sets and new skill sets,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said hiring new skill sets will ultimately transform the way the team works by bringing in “people who are specialists in human-centered design or data science or product management and have experiences in leading programs outside of the government with techniques and tools to deliver great technology.”
As the team works to deliver programs that are easily accessible in health care, Fletcher expects more teams like CMS’s digital service team to pop up across government agencies as the need to prioritize customer experience intensifies.