According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 58 percent of adults in the U.S. own a smart phone. This is up from only 35 percent in 2011. As more and more people begin carrying these powerful devices with them at all times, it makes sense to take a look at ways they can help to lessen some of the burden that patients carry when participating in a clinical trial.
They are many ways that apps can provide benefits to patients, healthcare providers and researchers. They can help make it easier for patients to search for and find trials that fit their needs. Once a patient enrolls in a trial, they can help him or her manage their appointments, their treatment schedules and other logistical concerns. They can also help researchers collect real-time information from trial participants without requiring them to travel to the research site to fill out pencil-and-paper surveys.
Current Clinical Trial Apps
A quick glance at the iTunes app store showed 107 different apps related to clinical trials representing a wide range of possible solutions for doctors, patients and researchers. If the interest shown during our recent clinical trials app challenges are any indication, the field will only continue to grow.
As we look at the available apps, they seem to fall into a few general categories. Below is a sampling of apps we found that are currently on the market, fitting in some categories of interest. These apps were selected to show the range of what's available and to potentially spark some ideas about what's still possible. We haven't tested them, and we don't intend to imply endorsement by listing them here.
Helping Patients Find a Trial
For a patient, finding a trial that fits his or her specific needs is often no easy feat. Trial information has not typically been presented in a format that's patient friendly. Several apps that are currently available set out to help solve this problem. For example, the Cleveland Clinic's Cancer Clinical Trials app is geared toward helping patients find a trial within the clinic's network. It's free and allows patients to search a real-time database for trials by selecting from a list of criteria that includes disease, phase, physician or hospital location. It also provides access to patient resources, financial information, support groups and treatment guides.
Helping Patients Manage Their Trial Activities
Once a patient has enrolled in a trial, the act of balancing appointments, treatment schedules and reporting begins. Apps like Clinical Trials Aide provides support for patients who are currently participating in clinical trials by helping them manage information and activities. According to the product's description on iTunes, it does everything from providing general information about the trial, to tracking medication administration and providing directions to the trial sites. For even more examples of these types of apps, take a look at the submissions to the recent Patient Engagement App Challenge.
Helping Doctors Find Trials to Recommend
Doctors also need quick and convenient ways to access information about clinical trials, as they are often called upon to be a patient's go-to source for information. MD Trials was designed to help doctors quickly learn about the availability of new clinical trials and to find information about future and historical protocols. It allows users to set up a profile, search the ClinicalTrials.gov for trials and build a "Favorites List" of the ones they found most relevant. Even though it was developed for doctors, the app can also be used by potential participants and caregivers who are looking for clinical trial options.
Helping Researchers Gather and Interpret Data
There are several apps available through iTunes that help clinical researchers perform calculations with trial data. The Clinical Trialist app is geared toward researchers who are interested in peforming Bayesian interpretations of the clinical trial's results. According to the description it "makes it possible to demonstrate how clinical trial results may be affected by prior estimates, and enables the researcher to experiment with various priors and see how they impact posterior estimates."
The Importance of Open APIs
We believe that the development of apps such as such as these is crucial to an overall open innovation approach to improving clinical trials. Each app represents an idea or set of ideas that patients, doctors and researchers can test and improve upon. Their suggestions can help improve each iteration of existing apps, or even spark ideas for new apps that solve problems we hadn't yet considered.
That's why from our very beginning at Lilly COI, we knew it was important to build an open API that would give developers a foundation on which to build these potential solutions. In the coming year, we're planning to launch some important enhancements to our API, that we hope will allow developers to build even bigger and better solutions. So, stay tuned!
In the meantime, we'd like to hear what's on your clinical trial app wish list. What are some problems related to either finding or participating in a clinical trial, that technology could help solve?