"Virtual Clipboard" to boost autism treatment and research
VCU students' invention can be used for any observational discipline
Monday, June 7, 2004
Mental health professionals and educators who use a traditional clipboard
and paper to record observations of children with autism can soon upgrade
to a portable computer that can tap the information superhighway for faster,
more accurate diagnoses and treatments. The new system is believed to
be the first of its kind.
“This system will tremendously increase our efficiency and make
a big contribution to researchers of autism worldwide,” said Dr.
Robert Cohen, director of the Autism Center of Virginia and vice chairman
of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Psychiatry.
The “Virtual Clipboard,” as it’s called, is a Tablet
PC-based software application that allows psychologists and other treatment
and educational staff to instantly file and retrieve patient information
to and from a central database using wireless technology and the Internet.
All data captured can be used immediately to help assess a patient’s
progress and treatment program. It was developed as a class project by
three Information Systems students in VCU’s School of Business:
Matthew Morton, Matt Nuckols and Chris Stewart. The students worked with
researchers at the Autism Center and other institutions to design the
Tasks that now take 45 minutes can be performed in as little as 30 seconds
with the Virtual Clipboard. “It will allow us to quickly gather
a lot of information about a patient’s performance,” said
Cohen. Applied Behavioral Analysis autism treatment is extremely data
rich and labor intensive. Many assessments are recorded on paper and never
used because they must be entered manually into databases, which can take
The system allows users to collect data, build and implement customized
evaluation forms, and make reports from the collected data. It has potential
benefits for treatment and research, and can monitor system users and
components. Sensitive patient information is hidden to ensure patient
confidentiality and computer literacy is not required because the application
is modeled on the old paper-based assessment system.
Other research areas can benefit too, said Morton – the project
leader. The system’s framework can be modified for virtually any
observational discipline, such as marketing research, land surveys and
In May, the students’ invention won second prize in a regional
technology competition sponsored by Microsoft Corp., which qualified them
to go on to the national contest in San Diego, Calif.
“This was a very worthy cause,” said Dr. Richard T. Redmond,
the students’ professor and chair of VCU’s Department of Information
Systems. “There’s so much data collection in autism research
that it turns psychologists into clerks. The Virtual Clipboard will let
them be psychologists again.”
The project was sponsored by Markel Corp., a Richmond-based insurance
company whose chairman and CEO, Alan Kirshner, helped established the
Autism Center in 1998 with the VCU Department of Psychiatry. The company
was seeking a better way to record patient data at the Autism Center through