Case study


Data fit for doctors
  • Tech: Django, React
  • Time: 11 years and counting
  • Team: 2 devs, 1 UX, 1 QA
  • Host: Kubernetes, AWS
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The challenge

It’s reassuring to know that the General Medical Council (GMC) regulates medical degrees in the UK – and requires medical schools to demonstrate that all their graduates are fit to practise.

Sounds obvious, right? A simple case of proving they’re teaching and examining the national medical curriculum. But when the actual content of every tutorial, lecture, practical and piece of homework is ultimately decided by each member of the teaching staff – all independent-minded medical professionals – it’s trickier than it sounds.

Imperial College School of Medicine’s approach was a technique called ‘curriculum mapping’. A series of ‘learning objectives’ and mapped ‘learning events’ (tutorials, lectures and so on) display which objectives are being covered by which events — and fill the gaps if necessary.

But when off-the-shelf curriculum mapping software fell short of Imperial’s needs, it was clear they’d have to go bespoke.

Off-the-shelf curriculum mapping software just wasn't good enough for Imperial. It worked well enough but didn't provide a real benefit to students. Imperial knew they had to go bespoke, and Isotoma was the perfect fit...

The proposition

So, what was wrong with that off-the-shelf software? Well, it did the job up to a point. But the Imperial team wanted more.

They wanted something that would go beyond the norm and provide real benefits to students. They wanted students to be able to see how a lecture last month is connected to today’s laboratory session. They wanted them to be able to choose a subject to revise and immediately see all the events that had covered it. That’s where we came in.

We quickly realised that, to be honest, the technology doesn’t really matter. We could have written it in just about anything. The important bit was understanding the complexity and interdependence of the information.

And there’s a LOT of that to grapple with.

There are around 7,000 objectives in the Imperial curriculum, all linked in many ways. Changes ripple continually across the course from different — and sometimes conflicting — contributors. Of course the software must reflect this, but it’s not as simple as updating one set of information. Everything depends on context. For example, if the content of a year one lecture changes, year two and older students must still see the year one lecture they actually attended, not the new one.

Unlocking this puzzle was all about deep understanding.

The project journey

We went through the curriculum mapping process with the team at Imperial and designed and developed an application that gives students something really valuable.

The responsive design means the application renders beautifully on both administrators’ desktop computers and students’ phones and tablets. And by implementing it as a single-page application and applying some cunning browser caching techniques, we were able to make navigating the large data-set extremely fast, with hardly any loading times.

To make the tool even more useful, we turned it into a two-way street. As well as showing students how different subjects fit together, it encourages them to feed back on the quality of education they are receiving. This helps fill unexpected gaps in knowledge, especially when students are on rotation in hospital, when the school has no control over the cases they see.

The impact

An impressive tool for Imperial, and beyond

The application has been rolled out to all six years of the medical course at Imperial. Its interactive approach and clear visualisation are popular with both students and administrators.

Following the success of Sofia at Imperial, we’ve partnered with the university to resell the application to other medical schools. Today, Sofia is in use in more than 20 institutions worldwide, helping over 50,000 trainee doctors, nurses, vets and engineers get the best from their studies. You can read more about Sofia on the dedicated website.

Can we help your organisation take a real business need from the spark of an idea all the way to software in use by tens of thousands of users? If you think we can help why not explore our partnerships?

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