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Virtualizing Clinical Trials: Can it Improve Patient Recruitment?

Clinical trials are the backbone of healthcare advancement. Thankfully, researchers and investors recognize the vital role of these trials and continue to work together to make them happen. Over 100,000 clinical trials are currently registered in the United States alone, a number that is tripled when taking into account global figures.

The importance of clinical trials in the drug development process cannot be understated — these trials are what make medical advances possible in the first place. Results from these past trials have greatly improved the world of medicine and healthcare, saving millions of lives in the process. A post by Maryville University notes that healthcare is as important as ever in the United States right now, with healthcare administrators, researchers, and physicians comprising 9% of total employment to meet the demands of an aging population. As one of the fastest growing and undeniably crucial industries today, healthcare relies heavily on clinical research to safely integrate new treatments and make them available to the public. Necessary drugs and devices would not be around if not for clinical trials, and as improvements are made to the process, more life-saving medicine can also be made available to the public.

Despite all this, however, most clinical research still fails to deliver beneficial results on time, with the most significant roadblock being patient recruitment. MM&M reports that almost 80% of trials in the country don’t meet enrolment timelines, which means there are severe delays in the processing of life-saving treatments. More has to be done to overcome this obstacle, and new mobile technologies and  applications are showing great promise.

The rise of virtual clinical trials is a possible solution to some of the challenges encountered in clinical research. Virtual trials, also known as remote trials, are an innovative redesign of traditional clinical trials. Through the use of technology like mobile devices tied in with artificial intelligence and big data, a more patient-centered approach emerges, which can potentially increase the number of participants and improve accuracy rates and results. Here, we will discuss how virtual clinical trials help address the significant problem of recruitment for clinical research.

Home-Based Trials

One of the most obvious benefits of switching to virtual trials is giving participants the option of home-based trials. In traditional clinical research, patients are often required to go to trial sites multiple times to conduct the actual tests. These require frequent visits to sometimes distant research facilities, which are a huge turn off for many participants, and may cause them to drop out or not even join the program at all. Virtual trials present a new method of collecting valuable data from participants, and without the hassle of constant travel to different sites.

By relying on electronic processes and devices, volunteers can participate in trials from the comfort of their homes. Researchers use technologies like apps and monitoring devices to monitor participants, eliminating the need to meet physically. These home-based trials have widespread implications in the practice of clinical research. For one, trials no longer have to be tied to specific locations or testing sites, which significantly expands the pool of possible respondents. Additionally, patients with mobility issues, like the disabled or elderly, will be able to participate in studies. Even isolated rural areas will become accessible to researchers and they no longer have to be limited to physical sites.

The break from the traditional burden of traveling will no doubt lessen potential participants’ reluctance to join clinical trials, and will also decrease the rate of participants dropping out.

Automated Data Collection

The complicated trial design and data collection methods of traditional clinical trials can be intimidating or viewed as a hassle for participants who would instead go about their day uninterrupted. Filling in forms and surveys, writing minute details regularly in diaries, or taking vital signs and measurements every hour can take a toll on patients. What’s more, any mistake on the part of the participant when fulfilling these tasks can compromise the results of the trial. 

Researchers who are looking into virtualizing clinical trials are now experimenting with connected devices like watches and sensors. These devices will track and collect data for the study without much effort from the participants and send them automatically to researchers for further analysis. This method will promote both retention and accurate results, removing bothersome tasks, and minimizing human error.

Through automated data collection, researchers can also promise a safer kind of clinical trial. Real-time data collection means that any anomalies or severe symptoms can be spotted and addressed immediately. Overall, potential participants will be more confident to join the trial when they know there’s always someone out there who will be monitoring them.

Targeted Recruitment

A difficult part of clinical research is looking for the right participants. Some trials require particular conditions that are rare to come by. Virtualizing clinical trials comes with the development and widespread use of applications that can collect patient data. Researchers can take full advantage of big data to comb through hospital records or previous trial participants to identify and invite people to join clinical trials. This means that there is no longer a need to depend on casting a wide net when researchers can achieve similar numbers through targeted recruitment.

Of course, as with any significant improvement or change, there are challenges in terms of broader acceptance. Similar to the hesitant businesses who are yet to adopt e-commerce technology, Hannah Robertson explains that the medical field will take some convincing to make full use of virtual clinical trials. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that as more people realize the convenience and benefits of the method, the virtualization of clinical trials  is only a matter of time. This inevitable technological shift will have a massive impact on the way medicine is developed, and can potentially lead to more lives saved sooner rather than later.