Conducting Research Using OpenSAFELY: My Experience of the Co-pilot Service
9 January 2023
Rachel Seeley is the Head of Analytics at PrescQIPP CIC and has recently completed a project in OpenSAFELY on the safer use of anticoagulant medication. In this guest blog, Rachel describes her experience with using the OpenSAFELY platform and our co-pilot programme.
How it started
The phone call went something like ‘Rachel, I hope you don’t mind but I have just volunteered you to do some research for the NHS England Medicines Safety Improvement Programme….’
I am an experienced prescribing data analyst, but had little or no experience of clinical research, researcher accreditation, python, or GitHub. All elements of conducting research within the OpenSAFELY environment. But…..I do love a good challenge!
During COVID-19, GPs have been encouraged to switch patients from Warfarin to alternative anticoagulants called Direct Oral Anticoagulants (DOACs) as they require less frequent monitoring and avoid additional visits to the GP practice.
DOACs do however require renal function tests to ensure the correct dose is prescribed to avoid harm in patients. This evaluation wants to identify the proportion of patients who are at risk of harm whilst prescribed the incorrect dose of DOAC.
Within the first month, I created my GitHub account, completed the OpenSAFELY getting started guide (in fact I did this twice!), completed the data access agreement and submitted the research application. As part of the data access agreement, I also had to register with the research accreditation service, which I did so through the ONS.
The next few months I had to wait to complete my Safe Researcher Training and pass the secure researcher assessment. Once accreditation was approved, I was given my OpenSAFELY co-pilot information.
For me, the co-pilot programme was so important to the on-boarding process. It needs you to be fully committed to the research ideally allocating one month of your time. My co-pilot was committed to me and was always on hand to help. We had weekly one-to-ones and reviews with goals and objectives being set. This ensured I kept on track and made full use of the co-pilot for the time he was allocated.
From then on it was research every day, full on while still in the co-pilot period, until the end of the year when I had my first outputs approved for release. To see those outputs for the first time gave me a huge sense of achievement. Yes, I could knock out charts from prescribing data in a day, but this was much more.
This was by no way the end, and research continued into early the following year. Code needed modifying and again my co-pilot was always there to assist and support, he didn’t just ‘disappear’ at the end of the programme.
Going from analysing prescribing data to writing code to pull specific events for the research and framing all that was not easy, I was learning every day, but it was not impossible, the proof being the end publication. I am extremely proud of my work and contributing to patient safety and relished the opportunity to expand my knowledge. All of the code for my project can be found in this repo, and I am already planning more research in the near future. For more information on this project, please contact me at email@example.com.
Want to know more about the OpenSAFELY Co-pilot programme?
If you are interested in conducting research through our co-pilot programme, you can find more information about our onboarding process here and the co-pilot programme here. If you have any questions, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.