The Problem With Spreadsheets...

Posted by Rust Felix on October 8, 2018
· Risk, Optimization

We recently conducted a global survey of clinical research sites around the world.

The goal was to better understand the challenges sites face when it comes to tracking, organizing, and managing their study drugs, lab kits, devices, specimen shippers, and everything else their clinical trials require (and the list goes on and on).

Not surprisingly, we discovered that most sites don't actively manage their clinical trial supplies and inventory. The ones that do rely on sticky notes and spreadsheets as their main tools. It's clear to most Study Coordinators why sticky notes are not an ideal long term solution for inventory management, but what about spreadsheets?

The Good

I absolutely, positively, love spreadsheets. Barely a day goes by where I'm not creating or using a spreadsheet. The best thing about spreadsheets is their versatility - one minute I'm working on sales projections and the next I'm updating my spreadsheet of 80's New Wave songs indexed against average band hair length.

But I digress.

In less than 10 minutes you can whip up a spreadsheet capable of tracking all of your inventory for all of your clinical trials across all of your locations. You can add columns for serial numbers, expiration dates, and inventory levels as well as rows for each of your items. All of your inventory data is finally in one place! You raise both of your hands to the sky and pump your fists as you jog around like Rocky.

And then you email it to your team to keep them in the loop, asking them to check their supplies, update the spreadsheet, and email it back to you. And they do! And now you have 5 versions of your spreadsheet. Each with different stock numbers that need to be combined back into your original version. And it looks like Mark made some changes to the column titles. And Jessica apparently deleted some rows for a trial that closed last week. And you slowly lower your arms and stop jogging around like Rocky.

Which brings us to...

The Bad

From Microsoft Excel to Google Sheets, there's nothing inherently wrong with using spreadsheets in your daily work. They are fantastic, flexible tools that help us stay organized.

But spreadsheets also have problems. Data communication and data visualization are the big two. Lots of people don't like spreadsheets as much as you and I do, and it's also way too easy to accidentally delete a spreadsheet and lose 5 years of inventory data in less than 5 seconds.

Your team is busy and on the move - rarely at their desks. Spreadsheets are difficult to use on the go, and they're even harder to share with your team thanks to people like Mark and Jessica. Even cloud solutions like Google Sheets aren't great for sharing data - it's nearly impossible to figure out when rows 15 through 32 were deleted and who did it. Mark? Jessica? I'm looking at you.

Which finally brings us to...

The Ugly

Google Sheets is free, and therefore seems to be the natural choice for a research site operating on a shoe string budget. But spreadsheets are actually an insanely expensive choice for your site when you look at their total impact:

  1. Spreadsheets expose you to supply outages that impact your patients. Without inventory on hand you can't enroll patients, you can't run a scheduled patient visit, and you can't protect yourself from protocol deviations because you're too busy scavenging for replacement blue tiger top tubes from another kit.
  2. Spreadsheets make it nearly impossible to maintain an accurate audit trail of who did what and when they did it. There's no change history so there's no accountability.
  3. Spreadsheets are an incredibly inefficient solution if you want to grow. You burn so much extra time with all the back and forth, data updates, and error checking that you're not focusing on your patients.

So What Can You Do?

Shameless plug: try Slope. It's always free for sites, and we're the only inventory management solution built specifically for the needs of clinical research sites. 

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Our team is passionate about helping you build a happy, high enrolling study site through better inventory management. Plus I can show you a really easy way to lock Mark and Jessica down so tight they'll never delete your lab kits ever again. Just saying!

Rust Felix

Written by Rust Felix

Rust Felix is the Co-founder and CEO of Slope. He's passionate about helping Sites & Sponsors improve recruitment & retention through better inventory management.