Though people remain generally the same as ever, it’s impossible to deny that the world around us has changed dramatically in just a few short years. These days, we carry incredibly powerful computers in our pockets, store our most important information in intangible space, and maintain some of our strongest relationships without seeing or hearing friends and family. Our culture is quick to accept new technologies, especially if they add convenience to our lives.
Historically, the opposite is true of the clinical trials industry. Though smartphones, cloud computing, and social media have been around for more than a decade, clinical trials are only just moving away from pen-and-paper forms to advanced electronic services. These changes promise to improve clinical trial data dramatically, not only be reducing risk but by improving accuracy and analysis.
Though the future promises even more advances in clinical trial tech, the following three technologies are already revolutionizing how we collect and understand clinical data.
First, smartphones took computers off the desk and into the world. Today, wearable technology, including smartwatches, -bracelets, -necklaces, and -glasses, is allowing mobile computing to spread far and wide. Soon, experts in the medical industry expect such devices to be adapted for medical use, so patients can receive the health care they need without wasting time and energy traveling to doctor’s offices or hospitals. For the same reasons and more, mobile computing has been outstandingly useful for clinical trials.
Just as wearable tech has evolved to communicate with smartphones, so have mobile medical devices. Monitoring and diagnostic tech might be installed on or in a study participant, perhaps observing blood-glucose levels or blood pressure, and set to send information through a smartphone. What’s more, thousands of existing apps are available to track other health data, such as sleep patterns and body temperature, so many researchers don’t even need to develop new tech to collect the information they want.
Therefore, researchers can collect reliable data on their patients 24/7 ― no more relying on participant testimony or irregular on-site testing.
Even without the use of smart devices, mobile computing has improved how researchers can gather data. One of the most promising developments is eCOA clinical trials, which uses technology to help participants and caregivers report outcomes accurately and efficiently. eCOA solutions are available on tablets, smartphones, laptops, and other devices, so participants and researchers can complete assessments anywhere, anytime. Plus, electronic files are attributable to a reliable source and legible, whereas many handwritten trial notes are not.
One potential downside of the wondrous data-gathering capabilities mobile computing offers is called “data overload.” Not all health data is applicable to every clinical trial, and collecting extraneous information might cloud important findings, confusing researchers and leading to inaccurate or meaningless studies. The solution is for researchers to be careful when designing their trials and be specific in their assessments to prevent an overwhelming flood of data.
As it has with nearly all aspects of life ― from interpersonal communication to business practices ― social media is changing several processes within clinical trials. From study design to recruitment and beyond, more researchers are turning to abundant tools on social media sites to inform and perform their trials.
Examples of existing impacts of social media on clinical trials are abundant. For example, some researchers are crowdsourcing ― enlisting a vast group of people, typically online ― for input on protocol design, in the hopes that their ideas will improve participant experience. Additionally, many social sites’ analytics tools are effective at pointing researchers toward populations that are capable of partaking in certain trials, meaning researchers have a more reliable source of participants than before.
Unfortunately, despite the obvious advantages social media tools offer researchers, social media does include disadvantages. For one, study participants often use sites like Facebook or Twitter to post about their current experiences within trials, which can and does influence other participants. In fact, a few social sites, such as PatientsLikeMe, exist for participants to discuss ongoing trials, so fellow disease sufferers can know what to expect from future medications. Worse, sharing information on social media could be a significant breach of classified information, particularly patient health data that endangers the safety and security of study participants.
As yet, technology has only helped researchers create safe, accurate, and beneficial clinical trials, but as tech develops further, it has the potential to complicate research beyond practicality. For now, researchers can cherish the available tech, but in the future, researchers and participants alike must be wary of abusing technology for clinical trials.