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Campus paper usage needs attention

The paper trail at UMass Chan Medical School’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) ended on October 1, with the launch of a new paperless process for documenting the hundreds of active research projects on campus. 

Dubbed the “eIRB” initiative, the switch to electronic submission of applications and reports is expected to save hundreds of thousands of sheets of paper each year. It is also an example for other offices to follow, school officials said, because after two years of decline, overall campus usage of paper increased last year. 

“Paper usage and our printing habits remains an area that we need to focus on,” said Jeff DiCiaccio, senior director of purchasing, and a member of the school’s Sustainability Committee. “People really need to ask themselves if it’s necessary to print or copy any document or email, because electronic storage usually can make more sense.”

According to data collated by DiCiaccio’s office, during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, the school purchased 6,939 cases of paper for printing and photocopying use, up 8.5 percent from the previous year’s total of 6,398 cases. Last year’s usage was still below the peak of 7,224 case of paper purchased in year 2009. 

“It’s important for us to measure and to communicate these numbers,” said Melissa Lucas, sustainability and energy manager for UMass Chan Medical School. “We were moving in the right direction for two years, and now we need get back on track. Reducing our paper usage is one of the important objectives we have in our sustainability program.” 

One way to help reverse the trend is seen through the example of the IRB’s decision to go paperless, Lucas noted. 

“We did it to save resources, streamline processes, and to make the lives of those in the research community easier by eliminating the need to handle and store all that paper,” said Michael Centola, manager of the IRB. 

The IRB oversees all research projects or clinical trials conducted by UMass Chan Medical School that involve human subjects. That can range from full-scale clinical trials with patients getting investigational medicines or new therapies, to more applied biomedical research studies that use tissue samples donated by patients. The school and its clinical partner UMass Memorial Medical Center have approximately 800 active research projects that require IRB review. 

“The board has to evaluate and approve a research study before it starts, then it must review every study’s progress at least once a year,” Centola said. 

The 15-member IRB meets twice monthly, and prior to going paperless, Centola’s team would use up to three cases, or 30 reams (each with 500 sheets) of paper to print copies of all the documentation the IRB members needed to review for each meeting.

“With the new system, everything from the investigators is submitted electronically and stored on our server. We then send each member of the IRB an email with links to the documents they need to review,” Centola said.

Given the IRB’s workload, the new system could save 360,000 sheets of paper over the course of a year.