Every industry is experiencing its own digital revolution, and clinical research is no exception. Innovations from wearable health monitors (e.g., Fitbit) to big data analytics will transform clinical trials, redefining how and when data is collected. If used wisely, digital technologies will accelerate medical discovery while reducing study timelines and costs. Read on to learn how four tech trends—mobile, social, big data, and cloud—will change clinical research for the better.
Researchers have already begun experimenting with using mobile applications, video conferencing platforms, and low-cost wearable health devices to gather patient data. Such mobile-based technologies may soon virtualize the clinical trial process, meaning more data will be collected remotely rather than in person. Fewer in-person visits would provide the obvious benefits of cutting labor time and cost. Also, fewer visits would make study participation easier for subjects, which would likely simplify recruitment efforts.
The fact that many smartphone users (approx. 20%) choose to track their health data may also impact clinical research. Subjects who self-track have a wealth of historical health data at their fingertips. Researchers can leverage this data and use it as a baseline to determine the effects of treatment. Compared to data in electronic medical records (EMRs) self-tracked data is generally collected much more frequently and could reveal more subtle treatment effects.
Online forums, health websites, and social networks are treasure-troves of patient insights on drugs and treatments. Some researchers have already started analyzing hundreds of thousands of online posts and comments to gain a better understanding of drug side effects and interactions.
The tech startup Treato helps pharma companies make sense of the avalanche of online data. Treato gathers conversations from across the web and uses natural language processing and big data analytics to derive insights. Treato’s database includes 2 billion internet posts made by 150 million patients. Now, 9 of the top 50 pharma companies in the US pay for Treato services in order to gain rapid insights that would otherwise take years to uncover.
The quantity of medical data available, from EMRs to online consumer data, is immense and growing each day. More and more researchers are leveraging these data sources to form hypotheses and identify high-priority areas for formal research. Likewise, practitioners are increasingly drawing on aggregated medical records to uncover patterns that might help steer care.
Due to recent advancements in big data analytics, researchers are better able to process large, complex pools of existing clinical data. One example is Project Data Sphere, an independent initiative formed by a consortium of pharma companies in 2014. The group shares and analyzes large pools of historical patient-level, Phase III cancer data to uncover patterns and develop more effective cancer treatments.
Big data also comes in handy when doctors are confronted with highly specific, uncommon cases for which scientific literature is lacking. When clinical research doesn’t have the information they’re looking for, physicians are increasingly conducting their own form of research by analyzing the aggregated medical records of millions of patients.
The cloud isn’t the future, it’s already here. Today, 96% of mid-size health care organizations are using or considering using cloud computing (Dell press release). The main benefits of cloud technology are cost savings, scalability, and ease of use. By using cloud computing, businesses are able to deploy premium software solutions without spending weeks or even months building infrastructure.
As cloud computing continues to broaden its reach, cloud-based solutions will incorporate more advanced data analysis, analytics, and visualization. This will satisfy trial managers who want more sophisticated ways of visualizing data with the ability to slice and dice data on the fly6. As the first cloud-based EDC provider, Medrio is especially excited to see cloud-based solutions evolve and become more widely accepted.