database problems…

For a long time I have been wondering about the problem of providing software solutions to fix the problems I am having with data collection. I am not sure what the final solution will be, but here are some options which people have presented to me and which I have not fully explored.

The problem is that I have lots of data to sort. I need a problem wherein trained people can manage this data but untrained people ought to be able to access the same database and be able to have limited privileges to either read or write data. More specifically, I need a library in a box where a librarian can keep a catalog of books and users can read the catalog, create profiles, and check out book. Also I need health software where medical providers can keep electronic health records and patients can access them. Finally I need general survey software for social or market research. It is my thought that there ought to be some survey program where people can create survey files. When a survey file is loaded into the program, then the surveyor can conduct the survey and the respondent’s answers go into the associated repository. But if it becomes necessary to quickly do a different survey, then the surveyor ought to be able to quickly load a new survey.

I am not necessarily imagining online versions of any of these, and in any case, I do need them to work without internet access even if they can be synced to a network online. I need all of this for research in the developing world done by local people, so ultimately I need the software to be totally free because I cannot secure funding for licensing for all potential users. I would like the software to have a community base so that I can talk about it on forums. I really do not have time to develop any software, so I need it to work now also. I do not think I am asking to much when I suppose that these applications ought to already exist, but frankly, it disgusts me to think that almost every library in America, almost every doctors office, and almost every surveying project in every university use proprietary software modified uniquely to their own projects. The disconnect which this shows between current management and reality is staggering, as I see no notable benefit to the current system. I think it comes about by computer-ignorant senior management being preyed upon by devious computer designers. The way things ought to be is that there should be at least one free open source well-developed program for all these applications, and it ought to be funded either by the government and professional and business organizations.

Anyway – here are some starts. For library programs there are Bento and Koha. UNESCO has a library which totally sucks and is really shameful considering their mission; it is called CDS ISIS.

For health software the big free ones are Microsoft’s HealthVault, Google Health, and Dossia. Dossia is open source. GE Healthcare – that’s General Electric – is the largest provider of healthcare IT for hospitals, but what they do is commercial. Their program is called Centricity.

For social research I am not sure what to say. The United States government shares some parts of its census software, CSPro. The large database software suites are SAS, SPSS, and STATA.

Where to begin? It is really intimidating for me when I have no work support to research any of this and just want to get to work. And if I have problems, how can this stuff be of any use to more casual users or people in developing countries? I see the greed in software development and the lack of available software support as one of the greatest shames of the developed world. Everyone needs good software, the problem that it does not exist is never going to go away, and there is not good conversation on how we are going to develop these things and use them to promote global health.

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This is Lane Rasberry's personal blog. None of the information on this blog is private, but it is personal and I have not written it with the intent to make it of public general interest. Anyone visiting this site has my permission to use anything they find here for friendly, share-alike purposes.