e-Tools: Pharma Study Patient Recruitment Is Going Digital

CRG_Dec2010Today’s guest blog post comes from Carmen R. Gonzalez. Carmen is the Manager of Strategy and Communications at Healthcare Communications Group, a leading clinical trial recruitment and retention firm, where she spearheads new technology in clinical trial recruitment and business development initiatives.

By Carmen R. Gonzalez (@crgonzalez)

Digital applications are taking the lead in the clinical trial recruitment arena, while their social media brethren lag behind. At the time of this writing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still had not issued its first set of rules on social media¢‚Ǩ”a reason frequently cited by drug companies and clinical sites in delaying or avoiding use of this platform for patient recruitment. While social media is slowly being adopted in some quarters, the marketplace is teeming with e-tools directed at patients and doctors which support patient enrollment. This article offers a brief overview of this new technology. Full disclosure: my employer has developed an iPhone/iPad app mentioned in the article.

SMS Services: Reaching Out to Patients and Doctors One Text at a Time

Texting is widespread among youth and has gained traction among general society. Already, many companies are tapping into SMS to affordably and efficiently target patients for study enrollment. Early entrants, such as Exco In Touch, have applied phone technology to send HIPAA-compliant SMS text blasts among client databases to promote study awareness. Others, like In Touch Recruit, have offered SMS text messages embedded into clinical trial ads which allow responders the opportunity to reply and consent for further follow up and screening. The latest entrant into the field, Doximity, supports doctor-to-doctor SMS messaging, integrated with privacy controls, while allowing physicians to locate each other and incorporate them into their social network¢‚Ǩ”an ideal framework for physician referral of patients for clinical studies.

Expect the use of SMS to continue to rise in this field. Many racial and ethnic groups are already digitally connected, creating new opportunities for study promotion. Earlier this year, Sparxoo.com reported that 76% of African-Americans use their cell phone to access the Internet, and a recent Pew Internet report in September confirmed that texting has reached the mainstream, with the movement being led by African-Americans, Latinos and teens. As the FDA increases its focus on diversity recruitment for clinical trials, it will become crucial to harness SMS to attract more ethnic and racial minorities.

Clinical Trial Recruitment? Yep, Theres An App For That

iPhone/iPad applications in clinical trial enrollment are growing in number, with most providing identification of local research studies, though a few offer information concerning the clinical trial process or clinical site-oriented support. The majority of apps are free. For the few that are fee-based, most tap freely available government sources (e.g. clinicaltrials.gov), providing no clear advantage over their pro bono cousins. Heres an overview of a few of them:

ICON_CanderTrialsCancer Trials by MedTrust Online, LLC
This free app allows a user to locate nearby oncology studies within 150 miles of their location/zip code and to contact clinical trial managers directly by email or phone. It includes search features to locate specific types of trials (phase, status, type, and distance from location). Integrated into this is a share feature, allowing users to pass along their search results with friends and family.

ICON_ClinicalTrialsClinical Trials by StopWatch Media
Tapping into the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Heath database, this app touts access to over 78,000 registered clinical trials. It includes advanced search features by clinical trial type, location, phase, open or closed status and other options. Featured trials from the American Diabetes Scientific Sessions and the American Society of Clinical Oncology conferences are included, with abstract numbers for ease of reference. Search results may be forwarded to friends and colleagues via email. Polls exist to vote on the “most important clinical trials of the week, month and all-time periods. This app is $3.99.

ICON_TrialXTrialX by Applied Informatics, Inc.
Locating nearby studies relies on the users location or zip, where this free app provides matching trials according to the users health condition, age, gender and other traits. Search results appear on a map or list, sorted by proximity to the user. Clinical study team members may be contacted via email or phone. An additional feature allows physicians to refer patients directly to study investigators. This app claims a database of more than 17,000 recruiting clinical studies accessed from clinicaltrial.gov, CenterWatch and registered sites and principal investigators on TrialX.com.

ICON_cTrialscTrials by Visual Soft Inc.
With this no-fee app, the user may search clinical study listings in clinicaltrials.gov, using advanced search features (e.g. country, state, refined terms). A time filter is available to limit results to more recent postings and search histories may be saved. Study teams can be contacted email or phone, and study listings may be shared with friends and family through email.

ICON_GuideClinicalA Guide to Clinical Trials by CISCRP
De-mystifying the clinical study process, this free application explains the research trial process and provides instructive resources. Ongoing educational support is offered through educational programs, newsletters on real world clinical volunteer stories, advice on how to navigate the trial process and current updates in the clinical research field.

ICON_MyOutreachMyOutreach by Healthcare Communications Group
Aimed to help clinical sites perform patient recruitment efforts, this free permission-based application maps nearby support organizations and disease-based associations by proximity to the clinical site, so staff is guided to the closest community outreach opportunities. Details include group name, address, phone, primary contact, meeting times/dates/location, along with any unique details. The current version presents diabetes-related organization information among a dozen U.S. metropolitan cities.

As the technology grows in popularity among the medical community and patients alike, the app market will likely continue to heat up for clinical study recruitment well into the future.

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7 Responses to e-Tools: Pharma Study Patient Recruitment Is Going Digital

  1. Thanks a lot for this post, very interesting. I started working on a new website that would map clinical trials and allow users to search by location and keyword – http://clismap.appspot.com

    It’s currently in alpha and I’m planning to add new features in coming months. I’ll definitely check these apps to make sure that I’m not reinventing the wheel. Thanks!

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for your comment Sarkis, and good luck with your clinical trial map website!

  3. Jody Schoger says:

    Carmen,
    What an incredible post. I didn’t realize that there were already so many aps in this arena. Essential info with one problem: is this information getting into the hands of cancer survivors? Yes Houston, we have a problem here.

    Here’s an illustration from a survivor’s perspective. To this day finding a clinical trial can be as extensive, if not more, than researching hospitals and physicians. A few years ago I signed on with Breastcancertrials.org, where my diagnostic information is stored and I am notified, via email, when a trial matching my criteria is identified.

    Since reading your post, I researched breastcancertrials.org, which is affiliated with Quantum Leap Healthcare. Quantum Leap Healthcare in turn, is linked to http://www.cancertrialshelp.org/, which features additional links from the American Cancer Society, Livestrong, etc. for their OWN gateway to trial information.

    The process is exhausting, even for a motivated, empowered patient. Survivors constantly get the message about the need for clinical trial participation — but getting matched up with one is a huge issue in an of itself.

    I’m grateful for your info and this discussion. It’s an important one.

    Thanks so much,
    Jody

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  5. Carmen Gonzalez says:

    Sarkis,
    As more patients seek greater alternatives for their medical care, your website can offer another resource for accessing clinical trial opportunities. Not everyone is familar with clinicaltrials.gov, so your simple interface can help bridge the gap. Good luck!

    Carmen

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  7. Carmen Gonzalez says:

    Thanks, Jody. I keep remembering Phil Baumann’s suggestion of a medical app to find medical apps. Boy, can we use that. Corralling all these apps and helpful tools is very cumbersome, plus the need for reviewing and rating them adds another layer of hassle. That’s where I hope Life Guide Institute can help make a dent by beginning to accumulate recommendations and consolidating that info, where patients and docs can get at it.