Helping surgeons to adopt software


“the evaluation was invaluable in identifying and addressing very important aspects within the project for sustainability of the software"

- Gary Wills, Project Manager, VRIC.

The Problem

The VRIC project took established software (called CORE VRE) and deployed an updated version (MyVric) for the UCL Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) – a world-class research centre for surgical excellence in orthopaedics. Having developed the functionality of the software for a number of years, the team recognised that improvements were needed to help other hospitals adopt and develop the software.

In the field of surgical orthopaedics, a research facility has the job of supporting the infrastructure needed to run clinical tests and trials. The research facility must ensure that the medical research council, the National Health Service and the research facility itself use information systems that are properly integrated within the clinical trial process. They must also accommodate changes in governance of the trials. Unfortunately, the software and the infrastructure in many research facilities are often inadequate for this task.

The Solution

Working closely with the VRIC team, software engineers from the Software Sustainability Institute analysed the MyVric software to determine areas for improvement. The institute’s sustainability assessment identified a list of changes that would make the software easier to adopt and develop. These changes covered specific and practical advice on adding to the documentation, improving their web presence, increasing the maintainability of the code. The sustainability assessment allowed the VRIC team to greatly improve their software and its documentation.

The changes made to MyVric, based on the institute’s sustainability assessment, allows clinicians in other hospitals to understand, develop and extend the software far more quickly than before.

The Process

CORE VRE enables geographically dispersed clinicians to collate and analyse the results from clinical trials. It was developed to provide a research-oriented system on the web to address the shortfalls of the software and infrastructure used by orthopaedic research facilities. CORE VRE was also used to organise project discussions and support the structuring of research in journal and conference papers.

Surgeons and research managers at the RNOH began to use the CORE VRE software, with a view to increasing its use in orthopaedic research. This led to the creation of the JISC Virtual Research Integration Collaboration (VRIC) project, which also aimed to promote adoption of the software at other orthopaedic research organisations.

Dr. Gary Wills, VRIC project manager, realised that an independent review of the software would be invaluable for identifying how MyVric could be improved. The Software Sustainability Institute evaluated the sustainability of MyVric – specifically looking at the technical and user documentation, the VRIC project’s web presence, and the software itself. A comprehensive report including a number of practical recommendations was delivered to the VRIC project – and described as “Outstanding” by Dr. Wills.

The VRIC project has now fulfilled over half of the recommendations made in the evaluation report, and they have now reported interest from other schools of medicine and neurosurgery.