Alabama Eye Bank

The FileMaker Platform helps the Alabama Eye Bank give others the gift of sight

A custom app enables the Alabama Eye Bank to manage referrals, potential donor screenings, tissues, distribution and online surgery scheduling. The app also handles most day-to-day operations, helps to evaluate hospital participation in donations, helps coordinate plans for marketing and public relations, tracks direct mail campaigns and manages HR, employee records and time off requests.

The Alabama Eye Bank (AEB) celebrates almost 50 years of helping people see. As the only eye bank in Alabama, the facility is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to respond when a healthcare facility, such as a hospital, calls to say a donor or their family has decided to provide the gift of sight. Immediately the eye bank dispatches a technician to procure the cornea. Following retrieval, the eye bank carefully evaluates the tissue and distributes it to a corneal surgeon who will transplant it as soon as possible.

Headquartered in Birmingham, the AEB has three other satellite facilities in Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile. The AEB employs about 55 employees in the four offices combined, in addition to several remote employees. The non-profit also organizes corneas for transplantation overseas to those who are suffering from blindness. And they are able to do all of this and more with custom apps built on the FileMaker Platform.

A long history of customization

Tom Cattell, vice president of Information Services, has worked at the eye bank for 11 years and describes his job as dealing with programming, security and “everything with a button.“ His position has evolved over time so that he now does approximately 80 percent of the programming for FileMaker, which was already in use when he joined the AEB.

Cattell was already familiar with the FileMaker workplace innovation platform. “I started working with FileMaker around 1998 while I was at a company that had a really archaic system. It had about 200,000 items that had to be searched alphabetically, which was impossible unless you knew the exact name of each item.“ Cattell created a custom app to make this information searchable, and he has used FileMaker ever since.

When he joined the AEB, it was in the process of migrating from FileMaker 6 to 9. He helped complete that process and made upgrades to the custom app as well. The app now runs on FileMaker 17, with plans to move the servers as soon as possible.

“That’s one of the reasons we can get by with one desktop guy for 55 employees, and he only works four days a week because FileMaker works so well.”

— Tom Cattell

A versatile partner

Today, “we use FileMaker for just about everything,“ Cattell says.

Because the eye bank must keep careful records, the custom app enables it to do that by managing referrals, potential donor screenings, tissues, distribution and online surgery scheduling. The app also handles most day-to-day operations, helps to evaluate hospital participation in donations, helps coordinate plans for marketing and public relations, tracks direct mail campaigns and manages HR, employee records and time off requests.

In the past year, Cattell has expanded the custom app and has developed a modular system. The employee information has been moved to a separate location and from that module, all of the information modules are accessible. He says this is easier to work with but also makes it easier to take down a section of the app if needed without taking down the whole program.

Going mobile

“There’s not an employee at the eye bank who doesn’t need to interact with FileMaker,” Cattell says. He has used FileMaker Go to make much of the app mobile over the past year, so the eye bank’s employee base of in-house and remote workers spread across four locations can access what they need from anywhere.

The mobile app integrates directly with all of the AEB’s systems. “This is why I love FileMaker. I don’t have time to learn a hundred other things or the money to employ people who do. I’d have to hire eight or more employees to do web and mobile development if we didn’t have FileMaker. So now we have just a couple people in IT and do exactly what we need to do.”

Saving money and time

The AEB uses Mac clients and Windows servers. “It’s the perfect fit: Mac, FileMaker and Windows servers that can run everything. That’s one of the reasons we can get by with one desktop guy for 55 employees, and he only works four days a week because FileMaker works so well.”

FileMaker has been budget-friendly in other ways, as well. “The efficiencies we created by just moving to a newer version and upgrading saved the eye bank tens of thousands of dollars in time and resources.”

Cattell finds access just as important. “Employees can get to any data now – any information, anywhere, anytime, on iPhones, iPad devices or computers. It’s all right there at their fingertips. That’s more valuable than anything else.”

He sees no need to look elsewhere for the capabilities and flexibility he has found in the FileMaker Platform. “Sometimes, someone will come to me and suggest another option, but then I show them what I’m doing in FileMaker and they say, “You might just want to stay where you’re at.’ The ease of use and low overhead are great. Everything in FileMaker is open to everything, in terms of APIs and integrations, and there’s nothing else that I know that does that.”

Moving forward

As an innovation platform, “FileMaker keeps pushing us forward,” Cattell says. His next project will involve using Tableau, a data visualization tool, and other sources to get a better view of the data and what it’s telling him.

Cattell is also just learning how to use APIs and integrating with Google and AWS. His recent trip to DevCon, FileMaker’s annual user conference, equipped him with useful training and sample files showing how others have successfully completed integrations. He looks forward to applying what he has learned for the benefit of the eye bank.

“FileMaker is just so powerful in our organization. We can’t live without it.”

To learn more about the FileMaker Platform, download your free trial. To learn how to build your first custom app, visit the Custom App Academy to watch a series of free educational video tutorials.