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Since 1994, the Berlin-based association has been supporting boys and young men threatened or affected by sexual exploitation and abuse. The aim of the association is to strengthen the rights of boys to a life without sexual violence, to promote their health, and to open up opportunities for their personal development and participation. One of the projects run by the association is “subway,” a counseling and drop-in center for boys, men and transgender people younger than 28 years of age who roam the streets and hustle. Social workers, social educators, and interpreters work on the premises. Besides providing basic necessities (food, laundry washing, showers, sleeping facilities, and a clothing bank), the association offers medical consultations. It also has a medical van that travels to particular hotspots from 10 p.m. onwards and is staffed by two social workers and a doctor. The boys, who are often homeless, then have access to medical examinations—in many cases, the only contact with a doctor they ever have—and an opportunity to discuss all kinds of problems.

Providing medical assistance, convincing investors

Up to now, the doctors in the clinic and in the medical van used a rather outdated software and database solution. However, it was not developed by a professional software company but by one of the association’s staff members, as a side task. Although the software served the most important purposes, it was error-prone and there was room for improvement in terms of usability. The main functions of the software were, on the one hand, to capture the medical data of the boys, and to facilitate medical treatment or continuation of treatment. On the other hand, certain details about the boys, such as their country of origin, language or frequency of examinations, were essential for statistics in order to receive the necessary financial support from sponsors like the Berlin Senate. But the most important factor—and a major pain point—was that the application needed to be quick, easy, and reliable to use. After all, during night shifts in particular, doctors have to concentrate completely on their patients, who are often under the influence of drugs or alcohol and need urgent help. There is no time for software that does not work.

For us as a team of doctors, helping the boys is a priority. Which makes it all the more important to have hassle-free, simple software we can rely on.

Volker W.Doctor at Subway/HILFE-FÜR-JUNGS e.V.

Personal experience for a better outcome

As a result, Volker who is the doctor at the association approached his friend Pedro, a software specialist. Both Pedro and his superiors at INNOQ were immediately excited about the idea of supporting the association with a better software solution. Pedro was given a window during his working hours to develop a first version of the software in a two-week sprint.

To gain a better understanding of the work done at Subway and the requirements for the software, Pedro accompanied his friend and colleagues on their nightly rides in the medical van. It made him realize how important this dedicated service is for these men, who are often still very young. Most of them are homeless or displaced, don’t speak German and hardly any English, and they don’t have access to the health system. It was a depressing but also motivating experience for the software developer.

Increased security for data and patients

First, Pedro took a closer look at the existing software and got together with the association for an actual state analysis. They discussed requirements, processes, and pain points. What is the software primarily used for? What are the secondary objectives? What typically happens during a consultation? What data is required? How and how often is which data used, etc.?

The existing software was essentially a simple Microsoft Access database with multiple screens for data input and searches. The following problems were identified: data that was actually available was frequently not displayed, links between data that should have been a matter of course were not created, and—in the worst case—existing protocols were overwritten by new protocols. And in some instances, counts for statistics had to be recorded manually in a laborious fashion. These problems were caused by broken applications on the one hand and a lack of knowledge on the part of users, or more specifically, poor usability on the other.

Lost data, in particular, is a problem for the association. After all, if the records contain fewer consultations and counseling sessions than were actually provided, for example, the association receives less than the required level of funding. The association needs to know what the most-spoken languages are in order to provide the right interpreters. It also has to know where and when the most help is required—for better planning of staff and routes. Another challenge was data security. The requirements in this regard have changed considerably in the last few years, which is why it was important to equip the new software with the relevant features and to advise the association about GDPR compliance in all processes.

Statistics for more humanity

And of course, the main objective of the new application is once again to improve the health of patients. Just like in regular medical consultations, it therefore had to map the medical history of a patient using information such as case history, symptoms, treatment, diagnosis, and therapy. This also includes notes or questions for the next consultation or for other attending doctors, as well as referrals to specialists. An electronic vaccination record, for example, was an entirely new feature.

A secondary objective is to collect statistical data—for sponsors and the internal organization of the association. For this, the software also records the patient’s contact details. One important feature is that the young men do not have to provide their real names and can decide to use a pseudonym. In this case, their date of birth is used as a search criterion, for example. However, important data for statistics includes their living situation, country of origin, and spoken language. For medical certificates or referrals, it may also be necessary to provide an address.

However, Pedro felt it was also important to focus on the UX. The software had to be easy, fast and, above all, intuitive to use. It should offer a “stress-free” user experience in which users did not have to worry about “breaking something.” Additional important improvements included GDPR-compliant data recording, and automatic creation of detailed statistics, such as the number of treatments per night, per language, per period.

From a technical point of view, Pedro initially evaluated a Low Code solution but then decided on a Spring Boot application, which allows for faster and more efficient development. He used JavaScript for the few responsive components. And even though this is primarily a CRUD application, he applied the principles of onion architecture.

Technical facts

  • Spring Boot with Thymeleaf
  • Javascript
  • In addition to standard Spring Boot test media, also Selenium web drivers and test containers
  • OAuth2-ready thanks to Spring Security

What you have come up with is difficult for us to put into words. For our doctors in particular, this is such a huge gift—and a level of professionalization that was urgently needed.

Lukas WeberManaging Director at HILFE-FÜR-JUNGS e.V.

Avatar of Oliver Wolf
Executive Director, Principal Consultant

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The new software is already in use and has been tested by all doctors working there, with the first feedback sessions being very positive. Pedro can continue to make minor bug fixes and changes during his work hours at INNOQ, and larger issues are discussed together.

The initial feedback indicates that a key goal of the software has definitely been achieved: it spares the users' nerves. Pedro knows from his friend Volker that having functional equipment can indeed be a crucial factor in whether someone continues their work or stays longer. And that ultimately decides whether the boys receive help or not. ‘A nice thought,’ Pedro says, 'that the software really helped.