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Biostatistics Service

Our Biostatisticians can assist Gold Coast Health staff in their research from conception to completion:

  • Defining research questions and developing the Research Protocol particularly in relation to study design, methodology, and data analysis.
  • Advice on who else to contact within the Office for Research Governance and Development (ORGD) or Gold Coast Health in relation to Research Development, Data Operations, Library, Ethics, Governance, Finance.
  • Advice on data acquisition, storage, and management ready for analysis.
  • Developing a data analysis plan.
  • Sample size and power calculations.
  • Data analysis.
  • Interpretation of analysis results.
  • Publication and presentation support.

Our Biostatisticians

Dr Ian Hughes and Assoc. Prof. Mark Jones are available for face-to-face consultations at the locations listed above or via telephone, Teams, or Zoom. For researchers at Robina, it may be more convenient to arrange a meeting with Assos. Prof. Mark Jones at Bond University. Sometimes it is preferable to meet at the researcher’s workplace. In the first instance, we encourage clients to contact our biostatisticians directly.

Dr Ian Hughes, BVSc, BSc(Vet.), PhD, MBiostats

Biostatistician | Office for Research Governance and Development
P: (07) 5687 8200

Monday to Friday
Gold Coast University Hospital
Level 2 Block E – Pathology and Education
1 Hospital Boulevard
Southport, QLD 4215

Assoc. Prof. Mark Jones, BSc, PhD

Biostatistician | Institute for Evidenced-Based Healthcare
P: (07) 5595 5523

Tuesday & Wednesday
Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine
Building 5, Level 2
Bond University
14 Robina Drive
Robina QLD 4226 

Thursday & Friday
Gold Coast University Hospital
Bond University Annex
Level 2 Block E - Pathology and Education 
1 Hospital Boulevard
Southport QLD 4215

Statistical support

Statistical software

The Office for Research Governance and Development (ORGD) provides, through Gold Coast Health IT, the statistical Software Stata 17. We encourage our researchers to use Stata. Accordingly, we provide Introduction to Stata group classes as well as one-on-one teaching on more advanced aspects of Stata specific to the researchers’ needs. Short videos on the most common uses of Stata are being prepared for our website. 

Accessing Stata 17
  • Click on “IT Support” in the middle of the home screen of your computer.
  • Start writing Stata in the search window
  • Choose “Stata Install”
  • Choose “STATA- Application Support”
  • At the bottom of the page click on “Log a job for this”
  • Fill in the form. “STATA” will appear as an option in the “Application” window (if not, write it in the next window, “Other/Unknown Software”)
  • In the next window, type in the asset number of the computer you want Stata installed on
  • Complete the “best way to contact” question
  • IT will then install Stata remotely. It should appear on your computer within 48 hours. It will be found under “S” in the list of applications that appears when you click on the windows icon in the bottom left corner of your home screen. The icon can be moved to your desktop. 
Statistics education and evidence-based practice

Dr Ian Hughes and Assoc. Prof. Mark Jones are available to give seminars or workshops to groups such as Departments or specialist trainees on any aspects of statistics, data management, the process of research, or interpretation of research literature. Both Dr Ian Hughes and Assoc. Prof. Mark Jones are involved in the Evidence-Based Practice workshops provided by Bond University’s Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare (IEBH). These workshops are tailored to the specific needs of groups within Gold Coast Health, e.g. Departments, Profession, Specialty. If you are interested, please contact the IEBH for details and to organise a workshop.

General statistical and data management resources as well as more advanced statistics references are also available below. 

How to prepare for your statistical consultation

No matter where you are in your research journey, to get the most out of your consultation it is best to come prepared. If you are still in the early stages of formulating a research question, try to have some idea of what the basic aim is for your research and what the rationale is behind that. You may be asked to forward your Protocol if you have begun writing the Background or to provide some relevant literature prior to the meeting.

For any consult, make a list of any specific questions you may have and be ready to take notes. Remember, research is a team game and the Biostatisticians and the other Staff in the Office for Research Governance and Development (ORGD) are part of your team.

The primary role of the Biostatisticians is to assist you in the statistical aspects of your research. We provide general and specific advice and mentoring in relation to the use of statistical tools such as Excel and Stata. For simple techniques we will demonstrate the technique so that you are able to replicate these for the rest of your analyses. For more complex analyses, we will provide you with background material for the method so that you understand the principles and we will undertake the analysis for you, usually in your presence. We will then go over the results so that you are able to interpret them correctly. If multiple complex analyses of the same type are required it is the expectation that you learn the technique yourself, whilst being mentored, or to seek external statistical assistance.

Data and safety monitoring boards (DSMBs)

Large research studies often require there to be an associated Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB). Our Biostatisticians are available to sit on these DSMBs.

Post graduate supervision

Gold Coast Health employees are encouraged to engage in research and to undertake postgraduate research-based degrees. Our Biostatisticians are happy, given capacity and relevant expertise, to be approached to supervise students at Honours to PhD levels.

Statistics FAQs

What statistical software should I use?

We would recommend you use Stata because this software is available from Gold Coast Health and we can show you how to use it. Stata is very powerful but relatively easy to use. Because it is very popular, there are many online sites that provide teaching resources for Stata, there’s even a Stata YouTube channel. Googling, “How to….in Stata” is a good start. Stata has a help tab at the top of the screen that will also direct you to useful resources. There are other options such as R, SPSS, and SAS. Many software providers offer free trial versions for academic purposes, allowing you to explore their features. R is free and very powerful but is challenging to learn. Having said all this, you will first need to understand your research question, know a bit of statistics, and, preferably, have discussed analysis options with a statistician before diving into Stata or one of the other statistical packages.

What format is best to collect research data in for later statistical analysis?

Most commonly, people will collect their data for research projects in an Excel spreadsheet; either directly or from a data capturing software such as RedCap. There are two formats that can be used, Wide Format and Long Format, both are fine to use. In wide format each row shows the data for a single participant. If there are repeated measures of a variable, they need to be named appropriately, eg BMI_3, BMI_6 for BMI at 3 months and 6 months. In long format, there are multiple rows for each participant relating to each time point that data was collected. So, in the above example, each participant would have two rows, there would be a single BMI variable, and a Time variable that would contain values 3 or 6. 

Here is a link to a publication titled “Data Organization in Spreadsheets” (Broman and Woo, 2018) that gives some useful tips on how to prepare your spreadsheet for data analysis. 

There are likely to be some specific things to be aware of depending on which statistical software you plan to use but the basic principles are:

  • Create a new Data tab: Copy the original data into a new tab that can be edited and modified to best suit analysis. Another, clean, data tab may be used to create data in a format that is best for export to the statistical software (ie simple variable names, no calculations). Save the file under a new name so that you always have the original. 
  • Be consistent, systematic, and simple: Consistent entries for the same thing; eg one of Male, male, or M. (when collecting data, Excel’s drop down choices are useful for this). Simple and consistent column names (which will become variable names); eg BMI_3, BMI_6 for BMI at 3 months and 6 months; not BMI (kg/m2) at 6 months. When naming variables, go from the general to the specific, eg Temp_max, rather than Max_Temp. Make sure column/variable names are unique.
  • Do not put anything in a cell if data is missing: Excel (and Stata, after data has been imported) recognize an empty cell as missing data. If you want to do any preliminary analysis in Excel, it is only possible if missing data is an empty cell. Broman and Woo (2018) recommend using a missing value indicator such as NA. This, however, assumes your data will be saved as a text file and exported to the R statistical package. Be careful when importing data into Excel from a data capturing software such as SurveyMonkey. They may give a numerical value for missing data; SurveyMonkey uses “11”.
  • Do not mix numerals and text in a numerical variable: Any text in an otherwise numerical variable will mean the variable is saved as text and cannot be analyzed. Do not use a “?” to designate uncertainty. If laboratory results use “<” or “>” for out-of-range results, decide upon a value that is reasonable to assume for such results.  If a value in variable X needs a comment, create a new “VariableX_Comment” column.
  • Put just one thing in a cell: For example, for the TNM cancer staging system, rather than writing, T1N0MX, create separate columns for Primary Tumor (T), Lymph Nodes (N), and Metastasis (M) with 1, 0 and nothing in each of the cells respectively. 
  • Create a data dictionary: The data dictionary is created in a separate Excel tab. Each column name (variable) is defined and described, eg Acronym and units defined; BMI_3: Body Mass Index (kg/m2) at 3 months. A trick to creating the Data dictionary, and to simplify variable names, is to copy the top row of the data collection sheet, the column/variable names, into the data dictionary and use the transpose function of paste to create a column of these names in the first column. In the second column, you can then write the description of the variable. If the original data collection sheet used long column names, such as whole survey questions, these can be copied into the second column of the data dictionary and simplified versions created in the first column. Once completed, the simple names can be copied and transposed back into the top row of the data collection tab. The Data Dictionary can also be used as a place to do some minor analyses or help tidy up your data (see later).
  • Continuous variables and categorization: Generally, if a variable can be collected as a continuous variable do so. It can always be categorized later if needed. Sometimes a variable in the original data consists of an inordinate number of categorical options, eg diagnoses (some of which may actually be spelling variations or due to inclusion of stray spaces). You may want to reduce this to a more manageable number of more relevant categories. A trick to doing this is to copy the relevant column into the Data Dictionary and use the “remove duplicates” function in Excel to reduce the column to unique values. Then, in the adjacent column to the right, you can provide a numerical designation to each unique value based on your clinical grouping strategy. These two columns form a “lookup” table. Go back to the data tab and create a new column after the column you copied. Then use the vlookup command to populate the new column with the numerical values from your look up table. Eg =VLOOKUP(AF2,'Data Dictionary'!F$1:G$19,2,FALSE). Where AF2 is the cell whose contents you are “looking up” and  'Data Dictionary'!F$1:G$19 is the location of the lookup table (you highlight it). The $ signs are inserted to fix where Excel expects to find the look up table. 
  • Dates: Dates can be tricky, but Excel is reasonably robust in that it will recognise most things that look like a date as a date. Try to be systematic and consistent, always using the same date format, eg 21/06/2024. Computer programs store dates as a number, for Excel it is the number of days from the 1st of January 1900. So, to find age or length of stay, for example, it is a simple matter of subtracting the past date from the most recent date. If date data also has a time component, as is often the case when extracting dates and times from ieMR, the time unit could be hours or minutes. I have even seen milliseconds. The time difference, therefore, may have to be converted to something more convenient, eg, years for age by dividing the number of days by 365.25.  
  • Data for specific instruments or indices: When collecting data from a particular survey tool it is important to know how it is to be recorded. Some instruments, for example, expect results from a Likert scale to be recorded as 1 to 5, others 0 to 4. Some questions may be weighted differently or the Likert scale for some questions interpreted differently. Some instruments will have groups of questions that form domains that should be summed (with appropriate weightings) together or the whole questionnaire summed. It is a good idea to know beforehand how the instrument expects the data to be handled so that you can design the Excel sheet accordingly. 
  • Organize the data as a single rectangle: Participants as rows and variables as columns, and with a single header row containing the variable names. Often people will collect data into two or more sheets for treatment and placebo, for example. This data needs to be together so that it can be analysed. It can be tricky to combine two spreadsheets, so it is better to set up the data collection into a single spreadsheet with a Treatment variable to designate Placebo (0) or Treatment (1). 
  • Do not use font colour or highlighting as data designators: If it is important to designate a data entry as something and that designation is likely to be something that an analysis can be based upon, then create a variable for that designation with values such as 0, 1, 2.
  • Do not justify your data: Excel has the useful feature that it automatically justifies text to the left and numbers (including dates) to the right. This means if text is accidentally entered into a numerical variable, even if it is a number that has been stored as text, it will look obvious and is easy to correct. Choose good names for things, make backups, use data validation to avoid data entry errors, and save the data in plain text files.

Last updated 16 May 2024