Using online research technologies is gaining popularity in the areas of PHD and post doctoral research.
AAH Software interviewed Dr Stephen Mullin, Clinical Lecturer in Neurology at the University of Plymouth, to find out the pros and cons of this methodology. Read on to discover if it could be right for your research.
Dr Mullin also jointly runs Rapsodi, a pioneering study that uses the internet to find new ways to diagnose Parkinson’s earlier and develop life changing treatments.
The platform was built by AAH Software and is completely bespoke, asking participants to spend 45 minutes per year completing some online tests to help identify certain early symptoms that appear many years before the movement problems associated with Parkinson’s.
Dr Mullin explains, “Bespoke software is under-used in our industry. Although assessing people in person is still better, the internet is good for minimising costs and getting big numbers.
“At the beginning Rapsodi was assessing patients in person who were located across the UK. This was very expensive and time consuming so we chose to move to an online platform where we could reach a lot more people at lower cost.”
However, the move to online came with its own learning curve. For example, without physically visiting patients, Dr Mullin’s team discovered that it was a lot harder to get them to do the tests, despite it being more convenient for them.
Dr Mullin comments, “We hadn’t grasped just how hard this would be. We had to do a lot of extra work to get the patient buy-in to ensure they really felt that they were important to the study, to get them to go online and complete the tests. I would say getting patients fully on board is critical.”
To help with this, AAH Software built automatic reminders into the platform at key study milestones and participation stages.
There were also some hard lessons along the way. Dr Mullin recalls, “We got off to a disastrous start by using the wrong provider initially. This cost us a lot of time and money.
“After putting the work out to tender, we commissioned Alex at AAH Software who had been recommended and we have been very happy with the work he has done.”
“This is the way research is going, the way the field is going, as it’s the only way you can get these big numbers.”
However, Dr Mullin advises caution: “Size on its own isn’t good enough. If you put junk in, you get junk out so you have to be meticulous about the data you’re collecting.”
Existing large data sets are another area to be wary of and Dr Mullin warns that reliance on them can set your study up to fail.
“Poor quality data won’t tell you anything. If you rely on enormous data sets being provided by other sources then inevitably you can fall flat on your face.”
“It’s really important to ask, is the data set suitable? Can it answer my questions?”
“A bespoke solution can help solve this problem. You have complete ownership over how the study is done, what questions you ask and how the data is captured.”
This approach gives you confidence in the data you are collecting and you know that you can rely on it when drawing conclusions.
AAH’s software is also highly customisable so that changes can be made during the process without having to go back to the developer, drastically reducing costs.
At the outset of your research proposal, decide what will be the best way to conduct your study.
The need for bespoke software will need to be costed into the study from the outset and you will need to be able to reassure an ethics committee that it is the best way to collect the data you need.
To give you an idea of cost, AAH Software offers free consultations so please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to talk through your requirements and ensure an online solution can achieve your aims.
Thank you to Dr Mullin for taking part in this interview. You can find out more about his work on the Rapsodi study at rapsodistudy.com
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