Hitting a Nerve

Research protocol overkill


This is a lot of paper.

A large stack of papers for a research study protocol.

It’s not a chart. Or mortgage forms. Or Family and Medical Leave Act paperwork.

It’s a research protocol for a study I’m involved in.

Now, I understand that research needs detailed protocols. It’s serious business, and when it’s happening at multiple sites they all need to know exactly what the plan is, what steps should be followed, who qualifies and who doesn’t, and so on.

But here’s what irritates me: That huge pile showed up at my office about an hour after all of the same documents were delivered to me by email, as PDFs.

Not only that, but someone had paid a messenger service to get them to me promptly. When I asked why I was told “because it’s the protocol that each site have both paper and digital copies.”

I don’t understand this at all. To me, the whole thing seems pretty wasteful on multiple levels. I’m told there are 28 sites for this study, so there’s a minimum stack of 28 times that one involved. Of course, each site probably has three to five copies (at least). Then, if the protocol is amended in a few months ... you get the idea.

To me this seems ridiculously wasteful. That’s a lot of paper and ink and shipping charges. If the whole thing can be sent digitally for a lot less money, why are they requiring both? If they need a signed signature sheet saying I read it, why not just print up that sheet? It’s one page instead of a huge pile. If I can digitally sign a document to refinance my house, why can’t I do it to acknowledge reading the protocol? I’m more likely to read study data on my iPad, anyway.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

Not only that, now I have to store that stack in my office for several years, in spite of also having it on my hard drive.

Obviously, this is just a fraction of research costs, but it’s still money wasted.

The environmental issues of trees, water to make paper, the ink cartridges, and fuel to transport documents are all there, too. I could certainly go on.

I guess the overlying problem is that we’re still between two worlds (paper and digital) and, in spite of the marked shift to the latter, many are still insisting we try to live in both. At some point it gets silly. And costly.

I’m sure we won’t become completely paperless in my career, but there are plenty of ways we can eliminate its often-unnecessary overhead. Money is just the most obvious one.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Next Article: