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The Alabama Eye Bank is a nonprofit that helps those with corneal blindness to see again. Its job is to collect and supply eye tissue to surgeons in Alabama, as well as many other places, quickly. The eye bank's database has to be powerful and easy to use by many people. This blog post explains how the eye bank uses its FileMaker database to do critical sight-saving work.
Most organizations nowadays, TechSoup included, rely on their databases to do their work. Whether it be donor and grantmaker tracking, client tracking, e-commerce, or inventory, we probably couldn’t survive very long if our databases didn’t do their jobs. I rarely hear about a database as mission critical as that of the Alabama Eye Bank.
The Alabama Eye Bank is a nonprofit headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city, but it also has offices in three other regional locations in the state. It has 40 full-time employees and has been around for 35 years. It is one of several eye banks in the U.S. that are members of the nonprofit Eye Bank Association of America. The organization has just two IT people to keep its systems running.
The guy who built and runs this FileMaker database system is Tom Cattell, vice president of information systems
at the Alabama Eye Bank. Tom is completely self-taught. He has kept his skills current by attending FileMaker developer conferences from time to time. He is a big fan of the platform, having written FileMaker databases for other clients including the Helen Keller Foundation, the National Guard, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Infinity Insurance.
The Alabama Eye Bank runs a 24-hour call center that responds immediately to notifications from hospitals about organ donors who just died. They dispatch a courier to collect the tissue.
The couriers use iPads to collect the data about the organ donation using mobile client software called FileMaker Go. They then bring the tissue in to an eye bank location for careful evaluation and preparation.
The eye bank database matches the tissue with corneal surgeons who have already put their schedule into the online database on the eye bank website. The eye bank then delivers the eye tissue to the surgeon in time for each surgery.
All this needs to happen within a few days and sometime just hours. Harvested corneas degrade within seven days. So far this year, the eye bank has supplied 741 corneas for transplants throughout the state.
The Alabama Eye Bank FileMaker solution handles nearly everything. It manages referrals, donors, tissues, accounts, contacts, distribution, and online surgery scheduling. It also creates invoices for QuickBooks.
In addition, the FileMaker platform handles employee benefits, including time off, vacation, and sick leave. And it tracks employee mileage and other travel expenses.
The Alabama Eye Bank operates the Global Sight Network, a service the eye bank started in 2008 to provide corneas prepared through long-term preservation to health-care facilities in developing countries. These tissues, which would have been discarded due to tissue evaluation or time-out reasons, are now useful as tectonic patches for emergency ocular repairs and for covering glaucoma drainage devices.
The Filemaker database also manages that program, which spans 32 eye banks in the United States and many recipient organizations in different countries.
It’s kind of amazing to see the data mechanism that makes it possible to restore sight to so many people. Corneal transplant is one of the most frequently performed human transplant procedures. Since 1961, more than 700,000 corneal transplants have been performed, restoring sight to men, women, and children ranging in age from nine days to 103 years.
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Images: courtesy of the Alabama Eye Bank