Beginning in 2011, when the United States Senate first recognized Information and Referral Services Day, November 16th was designated to raise public awareness and recognize the critical importance of the I&R field.
Every day thousands of people find the help they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of Information and Referral (I&R) services. I&R services come in all shapes and sizes, from crisis lines that provide their local community with a core set of human service referrals, to larger scale 2-1-1 centers providing comprehensive Information and Referral services to entire states or provinces covering many different topics and types of services.
Information and Referral is the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together and is an integral component of the health and human services sector. People in search of critical services such as shelter, financial assistance, food, jobs, or mental health and substance abuse support often do not know where to begin to get help, or they get overwhelmed trying to find what they need. I&R services recognize that when people in need are more easily connected to the services that will help them, thanks to knowledgeable I&R professionals, it reduces frustration and ensures that people reach the proper services quickly and efficiently.
The people who work these lines are consummate professionals who are often times like living, breathing encyclopedias; providing answers to questions ranging from, “Where can I get a free meal for my family” to “There’s a horse running loose in my neighborhood, who do I call?” We at iCarol are really honored to have so many Information and Referral services all across the world use our software to help provide these services to people who reach them via phone, chat, text, or through intake and screening forms or resource searches on their websites.
If you’d like to learn more about what iCarol does to support efficient referral management, check out this page of our website that goes over some of those features.
Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need, and addressing the social determinants of health in your communities!
Learn more about Information and Referral:
There are over 100 different “standard” fields available for use in your iCarol Resource Database which allow you to track and curate resource information you need to help your community. Some of these fields include Phone Numbers, Address, Languages Spoken, Description of services, etc. and are commonly used in the industry to describe what a service is, how it is offered and who it serves. But, you may not wish to have all of these fields appearing and populated on each level of the resource “hierarchy.”
For example, many people choose to have fields like Address and Phone number shown only for the Program, Site, or ProgramAtSite resource records, and not the Agency record level. There are probably several fields that you don’t wish to appear on the Public Resource Directory listing for the public, but you would like to have them appear in your internal iCarol system for your I&R and Resource Specialists. Customizing the fields being shown and editable at each level of the resource hierarchy is controlled using iCarol’s Resource Field Visibility tool, which recently underwent some very helpful enhancements.
Why the Changes?
These enhancements are a direct result of the feedback we’ve received from clients about this tool. Among this feedback was that the tool took too many clicks to operate, not all fields were available, some fields that were available shouldn’t be, and more. In addition to this feedback about what wasn’t working, clients offered some great suggestions on what could be added, such as ways to control the visibility of fields appearing on resource PDFs, and ways to enhance resource quality by requiring some fields to be required and always have values or text entered when editing.
Important note, we’re making the new Field Visibility tool available users now as a BETA feature. We welcome you to use it and test it out, and report any problems to the Support Team. Right now the new tool is available for configuration by Admins and those with Resource Manager security settings, but please note that the new Field Visibility settings and new version of the tool will not be applied to your system until you switch over to use the new tool (instructions below). Right now, these settings can only be used to control Resource Viewer, Resource Editing, Resource Auto-Verification, and Resource PDFs. Support for either version of the Public Resource Directory and Resource API are coming very soon.
The New Tool
To get to the Field Visibility tool, take the following steps:
- On your left main menu in iCarol, click on ‘Resources’
- Click on ‘Manage Resources’
- In the far left column click on ‘Field visibility’
You will arrive at this page.
When you navigate to this Field Visibility Settings page, you’ll note that to the right is a setting which shows which version of the Field Visibility tool you are currently using. Until you switch to ‘BETA: New field visibility settings,’ your settings as they are on the old tool remain in place. Warning: If you click on ‘BETA: New field visibility settings,’ you will be switched over to the new tool. We advise that you first configure your new settings before making the switch.
To explore the new settings page and/or begin configuring settings using the new tool, click the link to the right that says ‘Setup my new field visibility settings.’
Like the old tool, the field names appear down the left, and there are four columns to represent each level of the resource structure hierarchy: Agency, Program, Site, and ProgramAtSite.
There are a few new key things to note on this page:
- The new tool can currently be used to change the following areas: Resource Viewer, Resource Editing, Resource Auto-Verification, and Resource PDFs. To decide which of these you want to change the visibility settings for, select the appropriate one from the dropdown list.
- Where appropriate, for instance the settings used for Resource Editing, you can note that a field should not only be visible, but should also be required to have a value or text entered. Some fields, like ‘Name,’ are already set to be required and this is not editable, as having a Resource name is necessary in every record. These requirement settings will help you ensure important and necessary fields are not left blank, and results in cleaner and more accurate resource data management.
- There is a “Select all” or “Apply to all” setting at the top of each hierarchy column, allowing you to either turn visibility on or turn it off for every field* in the list with a single click.
*does not apply to the ‘Name’ field as this must always be visible.
- If you use Custom Fields, they appear at the bottom of the fields list. This allows you to control Custom Field Visibility in the same place as all other Field Visibility, rather than needing to navigate to the Custom Fields settings area of iCarol’s resource management tools.
- While changing your settings, it may help to have the field names appear alphabetically rather than having to sort through their typical groupings. Here you can change the field order from grouping to alphabetical and back again.
- If you haven’t yet Saved your changes and would like to undo the settings changes you made, simply click the ‘Undo Changes’ button. After clicking this button and clicking through a warning message, all settings will revert to what they were at your last save point.
- When you are ready to save the Field Visibility settings, click the ‘Save Field Visibility Settings’ button.
When you’re satisfied with the settings under the New Field Visibility Tool, and have saved your settings, you can then switch over to putting the new tool into use whenever you like. To do that, simply click the ‘BETA: New field visibility settings’ button.
We hope you enjoy the New Field Visibility tool and that you find it useful. Our goal was to apply all the helpful feedback we’ve received over time and make the process more streamlined and efficient, while offering even more options, control, and helping with clean data management. If you have questions or need to report any issue with the BETA of this tool, please contact the iCarol Support Team.
The iCarol Ideas Portal was released about 7 months ago, and already it is having a big impact, just as we hoped it would.
Since its release you have used the portal to:
- Add over 300 enhancement and feature ideas
- Cast 900 votes for your favorite ideas
- Submit about 150 comments to help our team better understand ideas
To date, nine ideas originating on the iCarol Ideas Portal have been released for use. We’ll talk about some of these in more detail on separate upcoming blogs, but here’s a brief summary of a few of those ideas and what they do:
- Receive email notifications and details when an Automated Verification Request has “bounced” and not made it to the recipient
- Receive email notifications that a Resource record has been flagged for review
- Initiate a new Automated Verification Request for a single record while viewing that record
There are currently 14 ideas planned and in progress, some that originated on the Ideas Portal and other ideas that were pre-existing but added to the portal so you could share you comments, feedback, and votes. Some of these planned ideas include:
- Create PDFs that include only certain fields of your Resource records
- Schedule statistics and specialized exports on a reoccurring basis
- Allow the template for sending referrals by SMS to draw fields from Site records
- Flexible date ranges in your statistical Summary Report
- Include Custom Fields in your Resource record PDFs
- Send referrals in the body of an email
- Integration with the 2-1-1 National Text Platform (NTP) including:
- Phone-to-Text referrals using 898211
- 2-way texting using 898211
- Pre-conversation surveys via SMS/Texting
- Updates to the iCarol Help area
- Applying your feedback to our Learning Guides
- Standard Resource Export using the AIRS XML 3.0 Schema
We want to thank you all again for embracing the iCarol Ideas Portal as you have, and contributing so many wonderful ideas to it. By participating on the portal and casting your vote on the ideas that would be most beneficial to you and your organization, you help our Product Management team prioritize what we work on next, and enhance the iCarol experience for everyone. Keep those ideas coming!
One of the greatest challenges for non-profit services is adapting to the new and varied ways in which the people in your community want and need to access your services. We’re dedicated to helping our clients face those challenges head-on with innovative solutions that help you help your community through the methods that work for them.
One of those solutions is iCarol’s Public Resource Directory (PRD): A feature that takes your iCarol Resource Database and turns it into a public-facing, searchable directory of community services. By taking your internally curated database and placing it online for public access, you’re expanding your reach, helping more people, and accommodating the growing number of individuals who prefer self-service over engaging directly with your specialists.
Late last year we shared with you our plans to refresh the iCarol Public Resource Directory and add some new tools and other enhancements. We’re excited to say that this new version of the PRD has officially launched! When you use this PRD you’ll enjoy:
A built-in Guided Search builder that allows your Resource Specialists to bypass web developers and instead build a guided, graphical search right within the PRD. For more on guided searching, stay tuned to our blog for details on an upcoming webinar on that topic.
Intuitive geographic searching that is easy for your visitors to use. They can simply begin typing in their known geographic location, be it zip/postal code, city, county, or state/province, to produce results that are relevant to their location.
Expanded customization around the look and feel of the PRD using Cascading Style Sheets that allow you to blend the search seamlessly into your website with highly granular control over things like font sizes types and colors, background color, logo integration, and more.
Mobile responsive functionality, delivering a mobile-friendly experience that rivals that of more costly mobile apps and accommodating the many individuals using their mobile phones or other handheld devices as their primary means of accesing the internet.
Relevant search results that improve your clients’ outcomes over what they’d likely experience if they tried to search for helpful resources on their own via a regular internet search engine. When your web visitors search or browse your PRD, they’re benefitting from your expert curation of the resources, reducing their frustration and confusion as they try to address their challenges.
To see some of these benefits in action, check out our video about the Public Resource Directory.
The PRD is available now and we encourage you to contact our Support Team to learn more about the upgrade process. Also stay tuned to our blog for announcements on upcoming webinars that provide further insight on using the PRD.
One thing that makes iCarol software so especially suited for not-for-profit helplines of all types is that it was created from the direct experience of helpline volunteers, and continuously grows by incorporating the great ideas from our users and from industry experts. In fact, a bunch of the features and enhancements you enjoy today started out as an idea from someone who uses iCarol at their helpline. While we work on new big features and changes with our planned roadmap, we also use a community development approach for custom projects which enhances iCarol for all subscribers. All of this amounts to creating a robust and comprehensive all-in-one software solution that is invaluable for helpline staff and volunteers in their daily work.
So, with so many users sharing their great ideas, how do we gather and track them and eventually decide which are developed and added to iCarol? Well, we’ve been working on a new system for organizing and tracking the ideas submitted to us, and now it’s ready to make its debut! It’s called the iCarol Ideas Portal — a new and better way to submit and follow enhancement ideas. This portal is available to all iCarol users with a security setting of Standard or higher and offers a number of features and benefits, including:
- Directly submit your idea right within the security of your iCarol system
- Browse ideas submitted by other iCarol users
- Add comments or additional thoughts to existing ideas
- Filter ideas based on their status, feature area of idea, how recently they were added, or see ideas that are trending
- Receive updates when your idea or an idea you’re interested in changes status or when another user adds a comment
- Vote on the ideas which are the most important to you
That last capability will surely add some fun and interactivity to the portal, while also giving us helpful feedback towards prioritization by seeing which ideas are the most popular and meaningful to our clients. Each user will get 10 votes to apply to the ideas they like, and you can apply up to 5 votes to a single idea you really love. Ideas can also be retracted and added back to your bank of votes. This may be useful in times where you are out of votes but see a new idea you like more than one you’ve previously voted for. When an idea is released to iCarol, or if we move an idea to not likely to implement, all votes for that idea are returned to you.
You’ll find the iCarol Ideas Portal by navigating to the Help section of your iCarol system. We’ve also included a number of Help Articles that outline how to use the portal to browse ideas, vote on enhancements, add comments to existing ideas, or add your own idea for consideration.
It’s our hope that the new iCarol Ideas Portal will improve communication and help you share your great ideas for iCarol with us. We’re excited to open this new communication channel with the aim of continuing to enhance iCarol and have it reflect the many fantastic ideas from which all our users, and their communities, can benefit.
One of iCarol’s most versatile features, Online Forms, enables visitors to your website to enter information that, when submitted, becomes a completed call form in your iCarol system. While there are several use cases for iCarol’s Online Forms, one major focus of these forms is in enabling a true continuity of care between the initial service providers (e.g. hospitals, clinics, physicians) and the helpline service following up with the patient following discharge.
Health advocates agree, one of the biggest issues they face relates to following up with patients after they have been discharged. Many hospital systems lack the time, resources, and specialized knowledge to provide a comprehensive continuity of care and as a result are looking to helplines, warmlines, and information and referral services to provide follow-up to their recently discharged patients.
With iCarol’s Online Forms, hospital staff can enter patient information through a website, either yours or theirs, and the submitted information comes into your iCarol system as a completed call form. Once submitted, other actions can occur, including follow-up scheduled automatically and an email sent to one or more of your helpline staff. Then, your staff can use iCarol to contact the patient through a phone call or even a text message. Best of all, the data related to the initial form submission and all subsequent contact with the patient is all kept and reportable through the iCarol Statistics, allowing you to keep track of how many patients you’re receiving, why patients require a follow up from your helpline, and what happened when your staff followed-up with the patients.
We are acquainted with privacy laws like HIPAA (US), PIPEDA (Canada) and the Data Protection Act (UK and Europe). We have safeguards and processes so that we do our part to maintain compliance with these laws, and are willing to sign needed agreements asserting our role in your compliance with them. For more information about iCarol’s security settings and standards, download the iCarol Security Summary.
As more hospitals and physicians look to enhance the continuity of care for their discharged patients, helplines, warmlines, and information and referral services are uniquely positioned to fill this service gap for health providers and using Online Forms may just be the missing link that can help you fill this need.
iCarol is a large and complex piece of software, and every client uses it a little differently. Some clients use some features, and other clients use other features. Client needs also change over time, necessitating the discontinuation, addition or adjustment of processes and policies. We understand that there is turnover in our client agencies, so training new staff or volunteers is a continuous need.
We are here to help! We have a number of self-serve options for training and notification of new features and enhancements. We encourage all of our clients to explore the information available through these options to assist you with building and maintaining your knowledge of how to use iCarol to meet your needs.
iCarol Help Page – Online Video Tutorials and other training and informational material
To access the Help page, simply click Help in the left hand menu when you are logged into iCarol.
The Help Page is organized into sections representing the major features of iCarol – Volunteers and Staff, Shift Calendar, Call Reports, Messaging, Resources, and Statistics and Reporting. Each section has a number of videos or other documents (for example, PowerPoint presentations) explaining how to use the different features in iCarol. Feel free to use any of these materials in your own training programs at your agency.
iCarol Help Page – Help Articles
To access iCarol Help Articles, click Help form the left hand menu when you are logged into iCarol, then, at the top of the page, click “Help articles – browse solutions to common questions”.
You can search for help articles in a few different ways. You can enter a word or phrase in the text box next to the Search button, and then click the Search button. You can refine this search to a particular category by choosing a category from the drop-down menu below the search text box. Or, you can browse through the various categories and sub-categories listed on the screen by clicking on the name of a category. For example, the screenshot below shows the help articles available in the category Calls, sub-category Call Reports – Create & Submit Call Reports.
iCarol staff are continually updating and expanding the Help article database as new features, enhancements and updates are released.
iCarol Dashboard – Announcements, tips and tricks
Users with Admin or Supervisor security status can access the iCarol Dashboard, which contains an Announcements, tips and tricks section. To access, simply click Home in the left hand menu when logged into iCarol.
This section contains posts about updates, new features, upcoming webinars, and more. Due to space limitations, you will likely only see the latest 3-4 posts displayed. To view earlier posts, scroll down to the bottom of this section and click the link labeled “See all news”.
To access the iCarol blog page, access the iCarol website at www.icarol.com, then click ‘Blog’ at the top of the page.
The iCarol Blog contains a variety of articles that pertain to the iCarol software as well as other topics we feel would be of interest to helplines, such as Bell Let’s Talk Day, as shown above. Blogs topics may include industry trends or news and events, helpline best practices, iCarol product and feature updates, new case studies and eBooks, ask the expert articles, and more. Want blogs delivered to your email? You can subscribe by filling out the small form you see in the lower right hand corner of the screenshot above. Doing so will deliver a biweekly Blog Digest to your email.
Finally, if you are unable to find the answer to a question you have, you are welcome to submit a case to the iCarol Support Team using the Online Case Management system. This is accessed by clicking Help in the left hand menu when you are logged into iCarol, then, at the top of the screen, clicking “Cases – contact the iCarol Support Team”.
It’s almost time for our next Quarterly Enhancement Review Webinar, the first of 2017, which will occur on Monday January 9th at 1pm EDT.
In this webinar we’ll review several features released to iCarol in recent months, plus we’ll speak a bit to enhancements coming soon.
These webinars are typically most beneficial and interesting to current iCarol clients who are Program Managers or Directors and use iCarol at an Admin or Supervisor security level, or those who are considering subscribing to iCarol. That said, all are welcome to attend.
This is part of our commitment to providing excellent communication about iCarol capabilities, updates, and enhancements on a regular basis. We hope you’ll join us!
Interested, but can’t make it on the 9th? No worries, we’ll have the recording available on our website shortly after the live broadcast.
More than a decade ago when iCarol was first created by two helpline volunteers, Neil and Jackie McKechnie, helpline work was very much based in serving people via the phone. And the phone remains a method of communication to this day for helplines all over the world.
Over the years though, as new technologies grew in popularity and availability, people increasingly turn to channels like chatting, texting, or connecting with services through websites. And helplines need to embrace these new channels to stay relevant and reach more people. The flexibility in iCarol enables helplines to capture important information regardless of the type of contact — our Call Report Forms are used to collect data on interactions, whether they happen over the phone, online, via text, or even at in-person visits from mobile crisis teams or walk-in clinics. But some of the verbiage inside iCarol still centers around calls as a primary service, like the main Calls page, Call reports, and Caller Profiles.
We know that many helplines have expanded services beyond the phone, and that iCarol plays an important role in your documentation of all channels. For that reason, we are considering a name change for the “Calls” section of iCarol to better describe what you do and how you use these features. Please take 2 minutes to give your input about this by taking a brief survey.
In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, many states in the southeastern United States faced destructive damage including massive flooding.
Here’s the latest from our friends at 2-1-1 in North Carolina:
NC 2-1-1 Provides Resources to NC Residents Affected by Hurricane Matthew
NC residents in all 100 NC counties can dial 2-1-1 from any phone 24/7 for resources
Raleigh, NC – NC Emergency Management has asked NC residents affected by Hurricane Matthew or those wishing to help with disaster relief to dial 2-1-1 for storm related resources. Residents in all 100 counties can dial 2-1-1 from any phone to reach a trained call specialist who can help them find shelters, and learn about evacuation routes, find help with storm clean-up, locate food, water and ice, learn more about volunteer needs and more. The service is available 24/7 in any language and callers will always be connected to a live call specialist trained to assist during disasters.
NC 2-1-1 call specialists are in contact with emergency management personnel and have the most up-to-date information on storm related resources, both during the storm and after. Call specialists can provide evacuation and shelter information, help people find food, water and ice distribution points and storm clean-up information and help, and help people find storm related clean-up help. Call specialists also have information about volunteer and donation needs and can provide that information to callers wishing to help those affected by the storm. NC residents should dial 2-1-1 or 888-892-1162.
In addition to disaster related calls, NC 2-1-1 can help NC citizens find resources for other health and human service needs, such as food, housing, assistance with utilities, job training, information about health care providers, and more year round. All calls are confidential and the service is offered at no cost to North Carolina residents.
NC 2-1-1 is provided to residents in all 100 North Carolina counties by United Way. The service is free, confidential, and available 24/7/365 in any language.
NC 2-1-1 staff shared with us that amidst the challenges of the situation, their service is standing out and being recognized by leadership throughout the state for their availability and outstanding service to their community. The system has proven itself to be a great tool to help citizens in need, and the people reaching them are feeling comforted, and pleasantly surprised, when they reach a live person.
We received a nice note from them in the aftermath of the storm:
“iCarol has served us incredibly well and I am so pleased with how easily I can pull the statistics I need. A big thank you to Mary for helping me pull those saved chart templates together Friday afternoon. The leadership at emergency management has been so impressed with the kind of information we can provide to them with just a few key strokes.” – Heather, NC 2-1-1 Statewide Strategy Director
We’re honored to be NC 2-1-1’s choice of software providers and we’re glad that iCarol has been an instrument to help them help people and produce important data for emergency management personnel, while reducing stress on their staff. Our thoughts continue to be with them and with all the people in the southeast US affected by Hurricane Matthew.