Behind the screens: building an impactful database


Sparked by a need for accuracy and efficiency, the Cancer Assistance Program (CAP) partnered with the mHealth & eHealth Development and Innovation Centre (MEDIC) to build a powerful client and inventory management system. 

By Jenna Yeomans ‘19

The need for a more robust database was clear after a staff meeting at CAP highlighted the challenges the organization was facing. Most of their tracking of inventory, client and donor information was kept in excel spreadsheets, which led to confusion, inconsistencies and errors in the data. There was also great concern that their master copy could be mistakenly deleted.

There was another critical element, “We could not tell our story with facts and figures when none of the data was in one place,” Debbie Logel Butler ’81, 2012 Alumni of Distinction recipient and executive director at CAP says.

CAP has experienced significant growth in the last five years due to both an increase in awareness and cancer diagnoses in the community. This further highlighted the need for a more robust database.

Debbie says, “Over the past five years, we have had some major transitions, [including] moving to a new location and continuing to provide services throughout the pandemic. It has been a busy few years for us.”

The Cancer Assistance Program is an organization that provides free, practical and essential supports to cancer patients in the greater Hamilton area. Debbie says, “Over 29 years, the mission has remained the same: to provide free services, and help individuals navigate their cancer journey.”

Janice Shearer, grant writer for CAP and former Mohawk College faculty member, further explains, “There is a cost to cancer that our healthcare doesn’t cover.” That is where CAP comes in, providing services such as transportation to cancer appointments, parking, equipment loans, nutrition, personal care items and educational podcasts.

When trying to come up with solutions to their database problem, they knew they did not have the expertise to turn that excel file into a database within their own team. They were looking for a system that would give them control to protect their data and reports that would help ensure they were providing the right services to their clients.

They needed to outsource this to an organization that could build the proper infrastructure—enter Mohawk College’s MEDIC.

“Mohawk has always been a part of my life, [starting] as an Early Childhood Education grad in 1981. [Later on] when I was working in fundraising, I became a CE instructor and taught fundraising at Mohawk in the evenings,” says Debbie. “I’m a proud alumnus. I’m proud of what’s happening [at the college].”

The connection between CAP and Mohawk was already strong—many of the staff and volunteers are either Mohawk grads or former employees of the college.

Through a conversation Janice had with her daughter who works at Mohawk, she learned that MEDIC would be really interested in a project like this.

MEDIC is a part of IDEAWORKS, Mohawk’s active hub of applied research and innovation. They conduct digital health applied research and development projects for small to medium enterprises. Development projects include digital health mobile, web and cloud applications, EMR and other health system and device integrations, and device development. MEDIC is nationally recognized as Canada’s Digital Health Technology Access Centre.

The lead developer on the project was Mesut Baltaci ’21, a graduate from the Computer Systems Technology – Software Development program.

The project required MEDIC to digitize CAP’s processes and data, and it started with understanding what they were currently doing.

Both Doug Ward, General Manager of MEDIC and Mesut echo that collaboration was essential in the process of building the inventory/booking system. “We began by understanding [their] requirements. As a project team, we visited CAP multiple times. During these visits, we engaged in discussions with staff and volunteers to determine their workflow and specific needs,” Mesut says.

“We proceeded to create a prototype using wireframes. Afterwards, we designed the system and followed the agile development methodology,” Mesut explains.

“We designed detailed process flows and accompanying UI designs which we shared and modified with their team. From there it was a matter of developing and testing the code [internally], testing it with CAP, and implementing,” Doug says.

Ultimately, MEDIC built a web-based application that helps manage the core activities at CAP. This system ensures that all information for clients is being tracked consistently, allows them to better track their inventory of equipment and schedule appointments. The system also allows them to generate comprehensive reports.

Mesut explains, “This application will improve CAP’s efficiency and accessibility and enable the organization to better serve cancer patients in their journey.”

To prepare for this project and his work at MEDIC, Mohawk’s Software Development program provided Mesut with a strong foundation. “My software engineering project and capstone project provided real-world simulation of the software development process. The co-op opportunity offered me hands-on experience that was crucial and taught me how to collaborate effectively with teammates and manage project timelines, helping me get to where I am today.”

The team at CAP are thrilled with the results and will be working with MEDIC on upcoming phases of the project.

Doug says, “So far it has been very successful and well-accepted by all at CAP, including the volunteers who use the app to manage customer relationships.”

When it comes to the implementation and acceptance from staff and volunteers who use it, Debbie says it was a team effort, but attributes a lot of the success to two members of the CAP team, Cindy Sharp, Manager of Volunteer and Client Services and Jim Foreman, Equipment technician. She adds that “Most volunteers are retirees—some have never worked with technology and they were very open to [and accepting] of this software.”

The new system launched in May of this year and will allow CAP to have an even greater impact on the lives of cancer patients and their families in the Greater Hamilton Area.