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A Dynamite Database Shift

Faster. Cheaper. Easier. Three goals of any modern organization. When Thompson Center leaders first approached the idea of making a database change for the center, their primary goals were to allow for a faster clinic patient intake process that ultimately cost less money and was easier for everyone involved, especially patient families. What they got as a bonus was a flexible new system that accomplishes all of those goals while also providing a valuable resource for current and future research projects within the Thompson Center.

The previous database system used by the Thompson Center was operated by a third party company, cost tens of thousands of dollars a year and could take weeks or even months to update. Enter REDCap. The new REDCap database system adopted by the Thompson Center is already funded by the University of Missouri School of Medicine, which removes a large financial burden from the Thompson Center. This new system allows for an amazing amount of flexibility based on the needs of the Thompson Center.

While the initial motivation for upgrading the database system was to allow for an easier way for patient families to provide self-referrals online in order to more quickly and easily be seen by Thompson Center providers, it has soon become apparent that this new system will greatly increase the ease and efficiency for research as well.

“Many of our research studies look at specific data collected from our patients during their clinic visits, such as age, gender, diagnosis, etc.,” said Nicole Takahashi, head of the Thompson Center research core.

“This new system allows that data to be collected when families fill out their initial intake forms online, while previously that information was filled out on paper forms and then hand-entered into the system. This was a very expensive and time-consuming process. The REDCap system allows this information to be searchable and accessible instantly for researchers as soon as those forms are completed digitally, which will greatly improve how quickly we can perform this type of research.”

This new system will greatly improve the ease for which researchers can conduct initial pilot studies to determine if future research is warranted. For example, if a researcher wants to do a study on the differences in gender and IQ among children with autism between the ages of five and seven, they can easily find that data in REDCap, as opposed to a much longer process with the other system.

“This initial investigation is very important for the research process,” Takahashi said. “It will allow our researchers to determine if a line of research is worth pursuing further as well as provide them evidence to pursue grant funding from outside sources.”

An additional perk of the new REDCap system includes a better quality control system for the data itself.

“Because we manage the data in-house, we can be more confident that the data is accurate and understandable,” said Katie Bellesheim, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri who has been integral in the transition to REDCap. “Also, if there are any problems that arise with the data, we can make modifications to how that data is collected immediately ourselves, rather than submit a ticket, pay hundreds or thousands of dollars, and wait weeks for the change to be made offsite.”

The new REDCap system also makes it much easier for researchers to search for patient data for specific research questions.

“Because we manage the data ourselves through this system, we can be much more flexible and spontaneous about what kinds of questions we want to ask of the data and what kinds of searches we can perform quickly and easily,” Bellesheim said.

This increased efficiency will allow Thompson Center staff and faculty to spend less time waiting and more time performing potentially life-changing research on the causes of and treatments for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.  On the clinic side, it will also greatly decrease the cost of entering new patients into the system before they can be scheduled for clinic visits. Overall, REDCap has already proven to be a head above the old hat.