“The main benefit is having the shared repository of information about a client and their case when we’re working across different sites.”
Headway Ireland is based in Dublin and provides CARF-accredited services to people with acquired brain injuries across Ireland. They have been using Penelope since 2006, with positive results across the organization. For example, in 2013 alone, Headway used Penelope to track:
19,000 staff hours in direct activity with clients
89,000 hours of treatment received by clients
Headway Ireland’s Story
In 2004, Headway Ireland found itself at a crossroads.
Since 1985, the Dublin-based organization had provided support and services to people affected by brain injuries, as well as promoting awareness of acquired brain injury and its impact on families and communities. However, multiple locations across Ireland and a piecemeal approach to collecting client data meant the agency was finding it difficult to produce even the most basic statistics.
“We had a very, very diverse and fragmented picture of the way that we understood what we did with our clients,” recalled Richard Stables, information and support manager at Headway. “And reporting on that – which became increasingly important to be able to justify our activities to our funders and our stakeholders in the health service – was a huge challenge.”
Regional differences between Headway offices meant that staff not only collected data differently from site to site, but also may have had differing interpretations on what constituted important concepts like a ‘client’ or a ‘case.’
“It was all a logistical and administrative nightmare even to pull together the answer to the question, ‘How many clients do you have as an organization?’” he said.
With client records scattered across sticky notes and spreadsheets, obtaining a clear picture of the agency’s activities was virtually impossible.
Recognizing the need for a database to store client information, Stables spearheaded an extensive requirements analysis, documenting everything from business processes and workflow to the organization’s reporting needs.
“I thought if we adopted a very flexible and useful and good system, it would also lead to a benefit in the way that we serve our clients as well,” said Stables.
After reviewing multiple options, Headway selected Penelope as its software solution in 2006, in part due to the existing client base of non-profit social service organizations already using Penelope across the world.
“The killer factors for us in terms of adopting Penelope was the fact that we could see that it was already a solution that was in play in the space with organizations that were doing work – maybe not identical to what we were doing – but in a very similar-looking way, with very similar types of group and individual activity.”
Penelope is web-based and mobile
Though Penelope’s web-based nature was something of a “radical concept” at the time, Stables said it was just what Headway needed.
“It’s clearly a perfect solution for an organization that is as distributed as we are, as diverse as we are, with locations in the different places that we are, with the needs that we have,” he said, adding that Penelope’s strong “flexibility for adaptation and customization was important, but its Internet accessibility was also massively important to us, to be able to know that we could work a piece of software from wherever you are in the organization as long as you have an Internet connection.”
Penelope in the cloud
Choosing the cloud model of hosting the software on Athena’s servers was a cost-effective solution, Stables said, meaning the organization did not have to invest in expensive technical infrastructure or hiring in-house I.T. staff just to get started.
“To have all of that heavy lifting done through that model, was just seen as an extremely helpful and attractive thing,” he said.
As well, Penelope’s availability wherever there was an Internet connection meant that staff could now do a better job of staying connected with their case load, no matter where they happened to be working on any given day.
“I think the main benefit is just in terms of having the shared repository of information about a client and their case when we’re working across different sites. We have a team who provide day services in more than one location, so they run a group with one set of clients up here in our centre in Dublin and then they’re down in Donnybrook with another group and their administrative base is somewhere else, so the fact that they’re able to do all their admin work from the one place and to see all of their case load in the one location, wherever they happen to be, wherever their internet connection is, is incredibly useful and saves them a lot of time and energy in terms of the processes that would have been necessary before to communicate all that stuff,” he said.
Secure and Reliable
As well as keeping staff connected with their case load, Stables said Headway’s adoption of Penelope has meant that client records are now also more secure.
“On the whole, I think the benefits were very clear to everybody from the get-go,” he said. “We’d had some difficulties in the past with misplacing client records. We’d get people calling us out of the blue saying, ‘My solicitor wants a copy of their neuropsychology report. Where is it?’ and even the act of being able to put our hands on the report was proving time-consuming, trying to identify who the client was, when we’d seen them, who the psychologist was, where their files were stored. It was embarrassing. Everybody could see that having this system would just get rid of all those difficulties in one fell swoop, basically. Which it has done.”
Stables said the company’s intake process “has been revolutionized” by using Penelope, saying job description of the organization’s referrals co-ordinator is now reliant on the software’s ability to track incoming clients.
“It’s enabled his work,” said Stables. “We just wouldn’t be able to see the volume and keep track of the volume of referrals and service applications and assessments of needs that we can process, without that type of system. It would have been chaos without something like Penelope and the fact that Penelope does it as well as it does keeps him extremely happy.”
Data is easily available for reporting
One of the driving forces behind Headway’s search for case management software in the first place was a need to be able to report to agency stakeholders on client outcomes, something Stables said the use of Penelope has now enabled.
“It provides us with a platform to move towards a more outcomes-focused intervention and Penelope talks our language very well from our perspective. And it’s also giving us ideas about how we can evidence the work that we do more effectively. So having the data, having the ability to slice and dice it in different ways, has proved to be extremely valuable and extremely helpful,” said Stables, who said the software has also enabled “lots of efficiencies” at the organization, from cutting down on paper costs to saving time for employees.
“It makes a lot of our work possible and it makes a lot of our work go a lot more smoothly than it would do otherwise,” he said.
Penelope is a win-win for staff and clients
Stables also said Penelope has been especially useful for the organization’s staff, given the nature of the injuries their clients suffer from.
“It makes it so much easier for us to respond from different parts of the organization. And one of the features of brain injury, the area that we’re working in, is that people will often completely forget who they’ve seen, when they saw us, what they came to us for and will apply again to a service that they were in three months ago, for example, and they’ve just forgotten. So the fact that the system is there for us to piece together their history of their interaction with us, and for us to be able to respond more effectively to the client on that basis, is incredibly important and incredibly helpful in us being able to piece together that missing history.”
Added Stables: “I certainly think that we’ve got a very positive view of the system here from the people who work on the frontline and I would be confident to say that we offer a better service now because we’ve got Penelope, and that we’re able to be more responsive to the clients that we do have.”