Clinical Trials—The New Way Forward

Industry Insights from Paul Meade, M. Sc, MPH

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal announced that Pfizer is conducting a clinical trial in which patients are able to use their computers and smartphones to enter information about the study, rather then spend time visiting a clinic. It was only a matter of time before clinical trials entered the social media era!

Actually, this approach makes a lot of sense, not just for the investigator, but especially for the patient. The patient is recruited over the Internet, enrolls electronically, receives laboratory tests in the mail along with test drugs, and tracks responses through an application on his or her computer or smartphone. Having participated in a clinical study before where I had to repeatedly return to the clinic, keep a paper log of reactions, bring in my responses to the study site, and answer weekly phone calls from the study nurse, I can say wholeheartedly that it was a big inconvenience. And all of that grief for the incredible reimbursement of $60!

We live in an age of instant and ubiquitous communication. I am never very far or long away from a business-related e-mail, even when I am on vacation. In fact, this instant communication has really changed the face of vacations for most people, but that is another subject entirely. While we may have surrendered a bit of data privacy and seclusion, we have gained the convenience of getting things done quickly and efficiently. And since clinical trials are notorious for taking so much time to complete, any new approach to improve the efficiency of patient reporting is undoubtedly a boon to the overall healthcare system.

But why stop at clinical trials? If there are efficiencies to be gained in conducting clinical studies using these communication tools, why not use them for overall healthcare management? If I am feeling ill, or have a sudden attack of an unknown symptom, why can’t I just text message my family physician? Why can’t I receive results from some lab work from my last physical via my smartphone? The costs of healthcare keep skyrocketing, yet there could be some simple, cost-effective ways to improve care delivery through existing technology that has permeated the other aspects of everyone’s lives.

I told my family physician that I would like to be able to communicate with her via my computer or smartphone, and that I would be happy to compensate her for this time, knowing full-well that she is not remunerated for such services. And therein lies the problem–physicians are not compensated for such electronic-visits (e-visits). So, if you try to engage a physician in some medical discussion his or her immediate response is “make an appointment to come into my office.”

If we can conduct clinical trials via this social media technology, under appropriate review  of the FDA, then why can’t we move in this direction for other healthcare management options? Maybe we can deliver the optimal care to consumers in a cost-effective and efficient way, and in a way that meets their needs in this instant communication era. Let’s take the lead from what Pfizer is doing with clinical trials!

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