Design of a Computer Database to Track Animal Admissions and Primary Diagnoses at a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
Catherine M. Brown, DVM, MSc
Willowbrook Wildlife Center, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Glen Ellyn, IL, USA
The use of microcomputers to aid in record keeping in wildlife facilities has lagged behind their use in zoological facilities primarily due to financial and personnel time limitations. However, the need for a standardized system of data management is not less (and may actually be greater due to the steep learning curve that currently exists in the field of wildlife medicine). So many wildlife rehabilitators are single individuals working out of their home or backyard that implementation of computerized record keeping is not likely in their foreseeable future. Larger wildlife facilities need to take the lead in developing a system that enables them to collate and disseminate information easily. Establishing an internal database is usually the first step towards adopting a more comprehensive shared system.
Since 1997, Willowbrook Wildlife Center had used a database written in FileMaker Pro that tracked animal admissions only. With a recent computer system upgrade at the Center, this program became obsolete, and we had the opportunity to develop a new system. Some of the problems with the original program were: 1) lack of standard set of diagnoses, 2) maintenance of separate animal admission, bird-banding, and release databases, 3) lack of standard admission information from police and animal control agencies, and 4) inconsistent style of data entry, particularly in species names. We chose Microsoft Access 97 for our new database program by default. This program was already in use throughout the Forest Preserve District for other record-keeping purposes, and we had an on-site staff member who was superficially familiar with the program and able to learn enough to write and maintain the database.
The current system provides several advantages.
1. It tracks admissions from local agencies by providing a drop-down menu of police departments and animal control agencies. Admissions from individuals are tracked by recording last ± first names.
2. Animal admissions are recorded and sorted by species. A separate category is used for species not accepted for admission based on our policies, but which we wish to track as they represent a significant time commitment for our staff.
3. It has a standardized drop-down list of diagnoses, which allows us to track up to three primary diagnoses per animal. With this we can evaluate trends in cases and track success rates by injury or disease in order to allocate our resources most productively.
4. Records of U.S. Fish and Wildlife bird band numbers and Forest Preserve District release locations are incorporated into the admissions program. This enables us to locate the records of birds with returned USFWS bands and to track numbers of species released at different sites to prevent too great a stocking density.
5. Recording the town each animal was found in enables us to watch for localized outbreaks of disease, such as botulism.
6. Reports built into the database provide information on birds at the center more than 90 days that need to be reported according to our permit; annual summary information formatted for submission to the USFWS for permit maintenance; and annual summary information required by the Forest Preserve District to justify our activities and budget.
The biggest problem with the system continues to be human-related data entry errors, although the use of drop-down menus has eliminated a significant number of problems. We have also found that educating data entry personnel about the functions this data collection serves and the impact that data entry errors can have, has reduced the incidence of errors. As staff members and volunteers become used to the system and recognize the usefulness of timesaving report functions over manual collation of data, the percentage of human errors should continue to decrease.