Evaluation: Sample Locator rated very good

The Sample Locator enables scientists to search for biospecimens and associated data in academic biobanks. The online search tool was developed by the German Biobank Node (GBN) in cooperation with the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). Now the Medical Informatics Initiative (MII) is also planning to set up an online platform for feasibility enquiries from research projects. In preparation, MIRACUM, one of the four MII consortia, evaluated two other existing search tools in addition to the Sample Locator with regard to their user-friendliness, in order to approach its own new development on the basis of the results. In comparison to the tools MIRACUM i2b2 (Informatics for Integrating Biology and the Bedside) and OHDSI's (Observational Health Data Sciences and Informatics) ATLAS, which were also examined, the “usability“ of the Sample Locator was rated by far the best by the study participants.

Web-based usability test

The publication “Evaluation of Three Feasibility Tools for Identifying Patient Data and Biospecimen Availability: Comparative Usability Study“, recently published in the journal JMIR Medical Informatics, summarises the results of the qualitative explorative study. The evaluation was conducted last year in the form of a web-based usability test with participants aged between 26 and 63 who work as doctors and are also active in research.

Sample Locator: aesthetic, clear, intuitive

The Sample Locator received the most positive evaluations, and at the same time significantly fewer problems were found with user-friendliness compared to the other tools. “The strengths of the Sample Locator were mainly its aesthetic, minimalist design and the resulting clarity, the easy input of parameters, and the intuitive navigation,“ explain first author Christina Schüttler and colleagues in their publication.

Suggestions for improvement already taken into account

The study participants also made some suggestions for improvement – for example, it should be made clearer how the search parameters entered are logically linked (“and“ or “or“). GBN has already implemented these suggestions and adapted the user interface of the Sample Locator accordingly.

About the Sample Locator

The Sample Locator is an online search tool that scientists can use to query biobanks for samples and associated data that meet desired criteria. At the same time, the Sample Locator helps the connected biobanks to gain more visibility. The technical basis is the IT infrastructure of the GBN – a federated network of so-called bridgeheads. These are data integration servers that are established by each biobank and filled with relevant data from the biobank (sample data) and from clinical systems (clinical data) at the site. The operation is carried out under the local sovereignty of the sites, which retain full control over their samples and data.

Researchers submit feasibility requests via the central search interface. The bridgeheads of the biobanks evaluate these and identify potentially suitable samples. After a successful feasibility request, the researchers log in to contact the biobanks relevant to them. The “Negotiator“ was developed for this purpose. Registration takes place via the German Research Network (DFN).

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