The incorporation of technology into the clinical research industry has been vast and varied in nature. It encompasses both technology designed specifically for medical purposes, and technology borrowed from the general consumer market and applied to clinical trials. Some of it is employed in the actual medical work of a trial, and some addresses the challenges and tasks associated with clinical research. Two of the areas in which we most frequently see tech in clinical trials are patient recruitment and patient data collection. From mobile tech to social media and beyond, let’s take a look at three innovations that have been harnessed to make these processes more fluid and efficient.
The potential of social media to benefit patient recruitment has long been discussed. By tapping into social media’s ability to reach a larger audience than, say, a face-to-face conversation with a patient, doctors and researchers can establish a more powerful forum for communicating the potential health benefits of clinical trial participation as well as mitigating the common concerns associated with it. And tools for organizing content based on topic, such as hashtags, can steer potential recruits toward clinical trials that match their specific needs and priorities: someone with diabetes can be alerted to a study of a diabetes treatment; an elderly person can find a trial covered by Medicare if coverage of the existing treatment is less than ideal.
However, even after so much discussion, studies have found that social media has been underutilized as a resource for patient recruitment. Recently, a group of doctors, in an investigation of the potential of Twitter to aid in recruitment, collected a sample of 1,260 tweets related to lung cancer. Of those, 221 were related to lung cancer clinical trials, but only a single tweet linked to a website where readers could actually enroll in one1. Industry professionals believe much more is possible, and have launched campaigns to discuss how best to craft a strategy that can maximize the significant recruitment potential of social media.
As part of the ongoing trend toward making clinical trials more patient-centric, Greenphire, a company developing innovative clinical payment processes, has developed a debit card that allows for automated payments for clinical trial participants. ClinCard makes it possible for patients to be reimbursed for their participation quickly, and can be used at restaurants, gas stations, and for many other day-to-day payments.
Like social media, ClinCard has enormous potential to incentivize clinical trial participation. While clinical trials are often an opportunity to receive innovative, otherwise unavailable treatments, most participants are still motivated primarily by the payment factor; a tool that adds convenience and speed to the payment process can heighten this incentive. And this potential is far-reaching: as of last month, almost 400,000 patients around the world had received payments using ClinCard2.
In discussions of patient engagement, few topics receive more attention than wearable tech. And the Fitbit activity tracker, typically used by individuals to record their own sleeping patterns and exercise habits, are appearing with increasing frequency in clinical trials. Last month, Mobile Health News listed 18 clinical trials using Fitbit – and this list was only an addition to the 21 clinical trials using it that the publication had listed the month before3. And the utility of Fitbit is not limited to any medical niche: the research for which it has been employed covers a wide array of diseases and conditions, indicating potential for its use to become still more widespread.
Fitbit is not alone: The use of mobile technology to collect health data from clinical trial participants is also the function of the ResearchKit, a framework for health apps created by Apple. But while the ResearchKit is designed specifically for clinical trials, Fitbit is typically used in the day-to-day lives of general consumers, and is therefore a testament to the current trend, in clinical research, of thinking outside the box: instead of relying on devices and strategies developed specifically with clinical trials in mind, researchers are keeping a close eye on technology at large, pulling innovations from other sectors and adapting them to their purposes. Such resourcefulness offers an encouraging sign that clinical research possesses the awareness necessary to keep up with the rapid technological advancements of today.
1 Boltz, Kathy; Social Media Has Unrealized Potential for Clinical Trial Communication and Recruitment; Oncology Nurse Advisor; 21 March 2016
2 Need for Patient-Centric Clinical Trials Fuels Adoption of Greenphire’s ClinCard Solution; PR Newswire; 5 April 2016
3 Comstock, Jonah; 18 more clinical trials using Fitbit activity tracker right now; Mobile Health News; 13 April 2016