SharePoint – What’s It Good For? A Health Care Mini Case Study

[Note: this blog post is cross posted at Mark Miller’s site here:]

One of my company’s more unusual clients is a New York City doctor who is a leader in his particular field of medicine (eye care).  Like many doctors, he has a strong interest in research.  He wanted to do some research on a rare eye disorder that affects a relatively small number of people in the U.S. and Canada.  I don’t know the number, but it’s really too small for a large pharmaceutical company to invest its own private funds with an eye toward eventual commercial success.  I’m sure large pharma’s do some amount of research into rare diseases, but I believe that the U.S. government is probably the largest source of funding.  Like anything, resources are scarce.  Many doctors across the country want to perform research and trials.  As a result, there’s more than a little competition for that government funding.  This is where my company and SharePoint enter the picture.

The fundamental idea is that a master organization will recruit other doctors across the country and enlist those doctors’ practices in a particular research study.  These individual practices must sign up with the master organization and then, subsequently, sign up for a particular study.  The relationships look like this:

  • One master organization.
  • Many different doctor’s practices sign up with the master organization.
  • The master organization obtains funding for individual studies.  At the outset, there is just the one study on a specific rare eye disease although we’re already ramping up for another study.
  • Individual doctors’ practices sign up for specific studies.  A specific practice could sign up for one or multiple studies.

The master organization itself is broken down into groups:

  • Executive committee
  • Steering committee
  • Individual study committees
  • Administration
  • others

Finally, when a specific doctor’s practice signs up to participate in a study, they need to provide professionals to fulfill a variety of roles:

  • Investigators (including a primary investigator, normally a doctor, along with one or more additional investigators)
  • Coordinators
  • Technicians
  • Grants administrators
  • others

The above roles have very specific and highly proscribed roles that vary by study.  I won’t get into more detail here, but if you’re interested, leave a comment or email me.

And now I can answer the question, SharePoint – What’s it good for?  The answer – it’s really good for this scenario.

This intro is already longer than I expected, so I’ll summarize the vital role that SharePoint plays in the solution and dive into details in a future article (if you can’t wait, email me or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to discuss and maybe even try to do a demo).  We are leveraging a wide array of SharePoint features to support this concept:

  • Sites for committees, individual roles (coordinator sites, investigator sites, etc). 
  • Security to make sure that different practices don’t see other practices’ data.
  • InfoPath forms services for online form entry.  This is a particularly big win.  Normally, these difficult forms are printed, mailed to the practices, filled out and mailed back.  The advantages to the online forms are obvious.  They do introduce some complexities (licensing and human) but that’s another story.
  • Out of the box web parts, like announcements (when does committee [x] meet?) and meeting work spaces.
  • Forms based authentication in combination with a CodePlex tool to provide self-registration and password forget features.
  • Customized lists and list views for visibility into study activities which simply aren’t possible with pure paper and pencil approaches.

With the exception of the forms based authentication module and a handful of InfoPath forms, this project is using nearly all out of the box SharePoint functionality.

Before I wrap up this min-case study, I want to point out something very important – no on involved with this project (aside from my company of course) has any idea that a thing called “SharePoint” is playing such a fundamental technical role.  Nearly all of my end users view this as “the web site.”  Our client values us because we’re solving their business problem.  SharePoint is a great technical blob of goodness, but done right, that’s irrelevant to end users.  They need a problem solved, not a wonderful blob of technology.


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