The Clinical Research Network (CRN) is part of the National Institute for Health Research and is responsible for supporting the delivery of clinical research in the NHS, in England. With over 595,000 people recruited to studies supported by the Network in 2011-12 alone, it is a task that generates huge amounts of data. In turn, this needs to be shared with stakeholders both within the NHS and externally in academia and in the life sciences industry.

To help keep this far-reaching endeavour on track, the agency has a mandate to: “Support research to make patients, and the NHS, better," explains Richard Corbridge, CIO of the CRN. These twin goals were given a fillip by the implementation of a business intelligence (BI) platform that has delivered superior management of clinical research data.

Since CRN implemented QlikView to create an Open Data Platform, the agency has been able to provide access to trial data in near real time. This erases duplication and speeds up access because stakeholders can access data with a password. Additionally, the CRN can focus on delivering clinical research more efficiently in the NHS, attracting more commercial studies as a result.

The primary objective for acquiring a business management tool was to manage performance and to open up the data of the NHS in order to support the delivery of clinical research more effectively. “Our remit was to reduce duplication and to ensure that government money was spent efficiently,” Corbridge explains.

“At CRN, we used to know around six weeks after the event who was recruiting and where because data capture was time-consuming, onerous and inconsistent.” Someone could be recruiting in Barnsley but be unaware of progress in recruitment at other sites in the country.

Once local data had been uploaded to the central CRN database, Corbridge’s team would write SQL queries to produce reports and his information management team had to be supplemented by temps during peak periods. “We realised we needed to have a single source of data available to everyone,” he says.

The decision to use QlikView was straightforward because it was already well known in the NHS. One reference site in Colchester impressed Corbridge. “They had used it to build a dashboard showing waiting times for A&E and where patients were in various care pathways”, he says.

As well as being impressed by the configurability of QlikView, Corbridge immediately spotted the potential for linking his national platform to local units. Sharing data with local systems would assist the recruitment to clinical research. By offering a tab on local stakeholders’ dashboards, GPs could view a snapshot of data of trials that were available locally.

Since roll-out, QlikView has delivered immediate benefits of more cohesive recruitment nationwide and better information for stakeholders. Updates to research data are input locally, amalgamated nationally and accessible to all authorised parties. It has democratised information, enabling individuals to drill down into data to discover best practice and drive continued improvement.

Corbridge cites the example of a recent trial in London. The graph showed a massive peak in Q1; the next layer down revealed the peak was down to recruitment within one trust, while the next layer showed how studies there had generated interest and how a survey sent out to men aged 25-35 had resulted in a high uptake.

“In this way, the BI solution is not only being used for project management purposes but for the dispersal of best practice,” says Corbridge. Since his team is no longer tied up in data, they can focus energy and efforts into how the CRN can provide resource in a different way to organisations conducting clinical research.

“There has been a perception that conducting clinical research in the NHS can be more expensive and slower than in other countries,” says Corbridge.

“However with innovations like the Open Data Platform we are able to clearly show the quality of clinical research in the NHS and how we can compete with other areas of the world to deliver an economy that facilitates clinical research well.”

Looking to the future, Corbridge plans to have two front ends to the Open Data Platform; one for NHS stakeholders and the second an anonymised version of data for industry. It is hoped the latter would attract investors and provide a boost to UK clinical research investment.

As Corbridge explains, the introduction of the QlikView Business Discovery Platform has resulted in changes more far-reaching than greater efficiency. “We used to be a data-crunching organisation. Now we are a business intelligence organisation,” he says.