Low participation in clinical research trials is impeding the advancement of healthcare and the introduction of new medical treatments to the market. Many new medications never make it to market simply because there aren’t enough patients who are willing or able to participate in clinical trials. According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, nearly 40% of all clinical trials never get off the ground due to lack of participation.
Major reasons that participation numbers are so low include the simple fact that patients – and their physicians – aren’t aware of the trials they may be eligible for, stringent requirements for participation, a lack of information or understanding about what participation entails, and concerns about risk. Given that only about three percent of all cancer patients participate in clinical trials, even though the number of people being diagnosed with cancer continually increases, indicates that clinical trials have a serious public relations issue.
But what is the solution? Because clinical trials are so important to the development of modern healthcare and keeping costs in check, researchers are looking for better solutions to recruit patients. And it appears that, as with so many things, the answer lies in technology.
Technology and clinical trials
For decades, clinical research recruitment has largely been a word of mouth-and-paper-based process. Patients typically find out about available trials from their doctors, who might have limited information to provide about the specifics of the trial. For those patients who opt to join a study, participation isn’t always easy. In addition to complying with the therapy, patients generally need to visit their physicians for routine blood work and exams to record the effectiveness of the treatment, side effects, etc. Patients are often required to keep their own records as well, which has usually been done on paper via a journal or log. All of this can be cumbersome to both doctors and patients.
By using technological tools, though, researchers can more effectively recruit trial subjects and gather more accurate clinical trial research. Some ways that technology is being used to improve clinical trials include:
- Clinical trial databases: Developing centralized databases that patients can search for potential opportunities and receive notifications of new matches is proving to be an effective way of recruiting patients. For example, Kaiser Permanente Healthcare maintains a database that is accessible to its 10 million members and allows them to enroll in local trials.
- Electronic health record matching: Kaiser Permanente also uses patients’ EHRs to help match potential participants with appropriate trials. When a patient is a potential match for a trial, his or her physician is notified via a notation in the EHR. Case Western Reserve University is developing Trial Prospector, which draws information from patient databases to match potential trial participants, eliminating the need for trial staff to manually review records to find patients.
- Improved patient education: Often, potential trial participants opt not to participate in a trial due to a lack of understanding of what it entails. There’s been a significant push to simplify trial-enrollment materials and provide clearer, more specific information to patients. Many researchers are accomplishing this via video tutorials, which are offered on lab websites and in doctors’ offices.
- Electronic data collection and BYOD: Perhaps the most effective tool in the push to get more trial participants is the expansion of electronic data collection, particularly when patients are allowed to use their own mobile devices to input trial data through electronic clinical outcome assessment apps. Rather than fill out the cumbersome surveys and logs, which patients often do at the last minute before appointments, they can record data on mobile devices that they are already familiar with. Not only does electronic data collection make the study easier for patients, but it also reduces errors and other issues in clinical outcome assessments.
Clinical research is expensive, and when a study doesn’t reach minimum participation thresholds, pharmaceutical companies stand to lose millions of dollars, not to mention the lost opportunity of improved healthcare. For that reason, mobile and other technologies may be the future of clinical research in hope that it will increase participation and patient retention.
Healthcare lags behind other industries in technology adoption, but it’s poised for huge growth. See how it compares in The Internet of Things and Digital Transformation: A Tale of Four Industries.