Purpose: We wanted to describe the potential benefits and problems associated with selected electronic methods of collecting data within practice-based research networks (PBRNs).
Methods: We considered a literature review, discussions with PBRN researchers, industry information, and personal experience. This article presents examples of selected PBRNs' use of electronic data collection.
Results: Collecting research data in the geographically dispersed PBRN environment requires considerable coordination to ensure completeness, accuracy, and timely transmission of the data, as well as a limited burden on the participants. Electronic data collection, particularly at the point of care, offers some potential solutions. Electronic systems allow use of transparent decision algorithms and improved data entry and data integrity. These systems may improve data transfer to the central office as well as tracking systems for monitoring study progress. PBRNs have available to them a wide variety of electronic data collection options, including notebook computers, tablet PCs, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and browser-based systems that operate independent of or over the Internet. Tablet PCs appear particularly advantageous for direct patient data collection in an office environment. PDAs work well for collecting defined data elements at the point of care. Internet-based systems work well for data collection that can be completed after the patient visit, as most primary care offices do not support Internet connectivity in examination rooms.
Conclusions: When planning to collect data electronically, it is important to match the electronic data collection method to the study design. Focusing an inappropriate electronic data collection method onto users can interfere with accurate data gathering and may also anger PBRN members.