6 Ways Tech Is Improving Clinical Trial Efficiency

June 2, 2021 • Devin Partida


Well-run, successful clinical trials are crucial for pushing the medical sector forward, uncovering new insights, and testing the safety and efficacy of pioneering treatments. Here are six fascinating ways technology can make them more efficient. 

1. Virtual Visits Increase Subject Participation

The potential challenges of traveling to a clinical trial site for a periodic check-in or another requirement can complicate recruitment efforts. What if a person sincerely wants to participate but lives two hours from the nearest trial location? Perhaps they don’t have reliable transportation. Those obstacles became even more prominent when COVID-19 restrictions advised against in-person visits unless essential. 

Patient dropouts can delay clinical trials, sometimes costing up to $8 million per day for the parties sponsoring them. Data also indicates that a significant portion of people quit clinical trials after finding the in-person visits stressful. 

However, a recent increase in virtual visits that occur remotely can remove many of those barriers. Participants only need reliable internet access to interact with clinical trial professionals from their homes. 

2. Wearables Make Clinical Trials More Data-Driven

Wearables are getting more popular in the medical industry. Those devices can help patients stay on top of bodily changes and immediately pass the data to their health care teams. They’re also proving exceptionally worthwhile in clinical trials, particularly for capturing new types of information. 

For example, a study examined the effectiveness of having patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease use wearable sensors at home and during site visits to measure changes in how they walk throughout a clinical trial. That’s not a type of data normally gathered during such investigations, primarily because getting the statistics requires sending people to specialized facilities. Even then, the information only shows measurements from brief moments in time. 

The clinical trial team involved with this effort believes that getting constant and relevant data from participants will change future efforts to gather information. If that happens, trials will become more efficient due to the immediate access to recent statistics. 

3. Data Dashboards Improve Information Access

Technology can also improve clinical trial information by making it easier for the relevant parties to see it. 

AiCure specializes in blending artificial intelligence (AI) and data science to change how people run clinical trials. It recently launched mobile-friendly dashboards that let trial managers, sponsors and other applicable parties instantly access statistics to shape future decision-making. For example, people can look at real-time dosing data and patient symptom reports. 

Another advantage is the option to switch between various data views. Parties can then focus on the information that most closely matches their needs and not get distracted by other content. 

4. Smartphone Apps Collect Recent, More Accurate Data

People who take part in clinical trials quickly become familiar with data entry. However, they sometimes have to do that while using devices that clinical trial representatives provide for them. In such cases, they may make errors or experience steep learning curves while using new gadgets. 

A more recent trend centers on bring-your-own-device (BYOD) clinical trials. Participants can use the products they know well —typically their smartphones — to enter and submit information. This option accelerates clinical trials by removing most or all of the tech barriers that may cause someone to become frustrated or misunderstand how to use a device.

One example involved people using their iPhones to participate in a clinical trial study about asthma. They downloaded an app, went through eligibility screening, completed the consent process via their phones and received various surveys about their asthma-related experiences. For example, they submitted data about triggers, severity and how the condition limited their activities.

5. Virtual Reality Improves Patient Engagement

Virtual reality (VR) has been the subject of clinical trials — assessing its worthiness for everything from stress relief to post-stroke care. However, it could also be a useful supplement for clinical trials taking place remotely.

For example, VR software could expose a participant to audio and visual stimuli. The headset could also track a person’s eye movements to confirm they’re complying with trial instructions.  In addition, it could recognize when a person becomes confused or overwhelmed, prompting an administrator to pause or provide further clarification. 

Alternatively, clinical trial studies that occur in a universal simulated environment could reduce the variations that would otherwise arise when people take part remotely. Some researchers even suggest using VR to create a virtualized trial site, such as a hub that all participants log into when interacting with representatives. That approach could bring a consistency that encourages familiarity among patients and helps managers gather data. 

6. Artificial Intelligence Helps Correct Biases

A longstanding problem with clinical trials is that there’s an overrepresentation of data from male participants. That’s problematic for numerous reasons, because females may be more likely to suffer certain side effects, including those that don’t show up in men. That could make a trial face extra obstacles in getting approved and proven safe. 

A recent research project used AI to conquer that issue. Researchers developed a machine-learning algorithm to sort through five decades of reports in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) database. It automatically adjusts for gender-based bias by building balanced subsets. It then splits an equal amount of data for each drug across people identifying as female or male. The algorithm repeats the gender-balanced subgrouping process 25 times before searching for telltale patterns within the information. 

Thanks to the algorithm’s work, the team now has a database of 20,000 gender-specific adverse effects. Researchers have also used the information to look at genetic differences between men and women and how those might affect how bodies react to medication or treatment. There’s still a lot of work to do in ensuring a balanced representation of population groups in clinical trials. However, this application of technology is a step in the right direction.

Technology Is Enhancing Medical Advancements

Many people don’t immediately appreciate the steps a drug or medical treatment goes through before it arrives on the market. Any unforeseen delays typically raise costs for the companies producing the products under scrutiny. Those holdups could also have life-altering effects for patients waiting to try them.

However, these examples show that technology can overcome many of the issues that often result in inefficiencies. As more parties involved in clinical trials experiment with how technology may help, people should see additional cases of tech being used to solve clinical trial challenges.