The VA’s Clinical Research Backbone

Research Administrative Management System (RAMS) is part of the VA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), which works to improve the health and wellbeing of veterans. To do this, ORD focuses on the healthcare needs of veterans, research is done to identify those needs, and solutions are sought after and developed in response. This research is conducted in clinics and labs across the country by private and public researchers and reported to the ORD through VA-managed portals. ORD provides the public research field with tools to manage protocols, personnel, budgets, and laboratories in order to increase compliance, efficiency, and accuracy of reports, as well as reduce the burden of regulatory oversight on research activities. The work of RAMS allows for cleaner data for ORD, provides consistency for oversight reviews of research being done, and facilitates training and succession. Each field research office funded by ORD must be in compliance with Federal and industry regulations, and the RAMS Integration system tracks office compliance with these regulations through a communication portal specifically for ORD and research offices. This portal is important because the system of the VA ORD is widespread, with several project application and management systems that communicate with each other and with various local and central offices.

For the RAMS project, GeekSI provided software development enhancements for the program, specifically for the RAMS Integration project. Labs and clinics are constantly engaged in rigorous research to provide healthcare solutions to veterans, and the outcomes can range from application of patient care, to the installation of new or improved programs. One of the projects that function through the ORD is the West Haven Center for Restoration of Nervous System Function in West Haven, Connecticut. The goal for this center is to develop new therapeutic approaches to improving the function and quality of life for veterans suffering from nervous system injuries, with specific focus on SCI, MS, and nerve injury. Another ORD-wide program is the Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI) program. The QUERI program works to improve the quality of healthcare for veterans by implementing research findings into clinical practice. These are great way to see the research funded by the ORD being realized in a practical setting, and the research conducted in these areas are largely self-identified by the researchers, who then justify funding to the ORD. The ORD partners with many institutions to conduct the best research possible, many partners including universities, nonprofit organizations, the private industry, as well as other federal agencies. There are ORD-funded centers across the United States. As an integral part of the VA, the Office of Research and Development relies on an intricate system of budgetary and research project management and tracking applications. RAMS is one such application.

Unlike the ORD Legacy systems project that GeekSI also worked on, which assisted ORD portal users in navigating the legacy systems and improved user experience, the RAMS Integration system pertains to enhancing the administration and management of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process. The IRB is required for conducting human research at the VA and provides a common centralized database for tracking and reporting on VA administrative research programs. The IRB process is in place to enhance the quality of human research by ensuring that the research that labs and clinics are engaged in is ethically sound and put under scientific review to make sure that local issues are addressed and that the research being conducted is beneficial to the health and wellbeing of our veterans. The portal is used in concordance with the various ORD portals, and because of that it requires sufficient server space to exchange numerous tools and resources, many of which contain multiple graphics and require large amounts of storage capacity. Due to the large bulk of information being stored within the RAMS Integration portal, the dedication to the administration of support was great. The RAMS Integration employs a configurable technology based on Microsoft (MS) SharePoint 2013, MS Structured Query Language (SQL) Server R2 Enterprise, MS SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), a custom web user interface (e.g., Java, J2EE), and web services. This solution delivers content management, workflow, and data quality assurance, and improves ORD’s ability to track and report research projects.

With RAMS Integration, local research offices can do a number of things, including:

  • Create and track administrative data for individual projects that are active or pending at local research sites, and manage research oversight committees and sub-committees;
  • Track research personnel assignments;
  • Track training requirements, and certifications;
  • Manage laboratory space and equipment inventory including, space allocations and equipment and support required reporting to ORD.

Along with the RAMS Integration project, GeekSI continues to contribute to the ORD through our work on the ORD Legacy program to help users create profiles in the various ORD portals. The RAMS Integration administrative work GeekSI has done helps contribute to the smooth experience of VA researchers and the research they develop. And, as indirect as the work may seem, we had and continue to have a hand in contributing to the health of our Veterans. We Geeks take pride in creating positive change in our community.

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