UCSF's Consultation Services Marries Research Excellence with Administrative Efficiency

Consultation Services
Over the past four years, through the comprehensive Consultation Service program (formerly the Biostatistics/Epidemiology/Research Design [BERD] program) at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), faculty and senior staff have provided more than 15,000 hours of research advice on biostatistics, ethics, research design, data management and more. Other UCSF groups are beginning to seek out the Consultation Service as the umbrella for offering their own services. A program providing expert guidance is only as good as its perceived impact, and the Consultation Service has helped investigators achieve their research goals. For example, a recent winner of the NIH Director's New Innovator Award credits the service with providing key guidance that helped him bridge his basic science background with an innovative translational project he proposed to explore brain plasticity and its role in autism spectrum disorders. (See Erik Ullian's story.) A graduate student reported receiving "invaluable" advice that felt like a "life raft." And a professor of clinical medicine received biostatistical advice that enabled publication of key data that are now informing Medicare policymaking. UCSF CTSI's Consultation Service combines academic excellence with a careful eye to business processes. Key elements of the program's success include:
  • Support for a wide and growing portfolio of topics
  • Creative incentives for faculty participation
  • Recruitment of exceptional faculty unit directors
  • A payment model to support consultants providing hourly niche services. Instead of paying a portion of a consultant's salary, Consultation Services is able to pay consultants only for hours they've worked thereby allowing the service to retain a large pool of consultants available to the clients.
  • Streamlined business processes to triage, charge for and evaluate consulting requests
  • Implementation of OpenAir, an automated system to manage the provision of services, from online requests to consultant timekeeping, that delivers flexible reporting for business analysis
  • Support of small budget initiatives, such as the launch of CTSpedia, a blog to support "curbside consulting" in research ethics and biostatistical methodology papers that allow for creative extensions of core services
With the appointment of new co-directors, Mini Kahlon, Ph.D., and Mark Pletcher M.D., M.P.H., Consultation Services also successfully piloted a unique co-leadership model of senior professional staff with faculty to further support the integration of academic and business excellence. While Dr. Pletcher brings the perspective of a UCSF faculty to the leadership of the program, Dr. Kahlon rounds out the directorship with her experience in the nonprofit and industry sector. The service also introduced a streamlined model for budget organization and consultant timekeeping to allow for better accountability of costs that directly support service provision versus infrastructure and growth. Looking ahead, UCSF's Consultation Service plans to expand the scope and reach of its services even further. Examples of new niche services planned include advice on international projects, guidance on faculty mentoring, the use of geomapping to support population health studies and advice on mobile health informatics. The program is also looking into streamlined procedures for adding new services and consultants and plans to develop a national consulting network to provide cross-institutional consultations as well as collaborations with other non-CTSA institutions. Published in national CTSA Newsletter