The Trent Study Group, based at Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham, was set up to investigate the causes of infection with Hepatitis C and comprises members from the National Blood Transfusion Service, QMC and a number of other hospitals in or adjacent to the Trent region, including Nottingham City, Scunthorpe, Derby, Sheffield and Leeds.
The group had been storing its data in an MS Access based system, which had been replicated for use across the five principal sites for data collection. Over time the synchronization of these replicas had given rise to concerns over the integrity of the data. By July 2000, there was no longer a definitive single data set, user confidence had fallen and the system had ceased to be a useful working tool. It was at this point, after approaching a number of other suppliers that the Group called in Illuminaries to look at reworking the system and rebuilding the master dataset.
Following a number of meetings with key users of the system to review current issues and identify and record current and future requirements, Illuminaries undertook a repair the system and re-engineered it to make it more robust. The use of synchronised replica databases, which was fundamentally unreliable in that version MS Access, was replaced by a system whereby datasets from the individual sites were merged on a monthly basis by Illuminaries, with the resultant merged database being made available to clinical and research staff as required. Over successive years, with increasing improvements in data quality at each site, due to additional validation at the point of data entry, the turn-around time to carry out the data merge has reduced to under an hour, which has a minimal support cost. This includes the production of an Excel spreadsheet providing summary stats and an overview of changes since the previous merge.
Illuminaries also added some features for visually searching through the data, which were easy (and therefore inexpensive) to implement but which added significantly to the system’s ease of use for the data entry staff. After these changes, one member of the Group reported, “I’ve got more work done in the past 2 weeks, than I have in the past 6 months”
Since the original piece of work, the system has been extended and modified to deal with additional test results and the inclusion of an ad hoc query and reporting module. In addition, consultancy undertaken by Illuminaries for the group, paid for through the flexible annual support contract, has allowed bulk biopsy and other lab data to be uploaded into the database to support the research team and contribute to academic papers from the group.
Our principal remits were to repair the data and to restore users’ confidence in the database. One of the best measures of success in terms of the design was that, as far as the users were concerned, the system appeared to be less complex, not more, even though there was far more happening behind the scenes.