Clinical trials are typically based on the centuries-old scientific method. They often begin with a specific question being investigated, and then they proceed to find an answer to that question through a series of testing procedures. However, recent advances in consumer technology have made it possible to conduct clinical trials that take full advantage of modern devices. It is becoming increasingly important to update the clinical trial process for this decade.
There are several areas of technology that are very important to medical research.
First, smartphones have the biggest impact on research. More and more people are buying and using these advanced pocket-sized computers, and they’re spending more time on them. These devices are good for more than just texting, checking email, browsing the web, and playing games. They are also great for logging medical information. There are now apps for everything from logging food intake and exercise to keeping track of medications. There is also a wide variety of companion gadgets, including heart rate monitors, activity trackers, and blood glucose devices. All of these tie into applications on the smartphone, and they typically upload the information they collect to the Internet.
Next, tablets play an important role in clinical trials. Not only are they used by patients/consumers on a day-to-day basis, but they can also be used by researchers as a convenient yet powerful way to collect data in the field.
Finally, the cloud can make it very simple for patients to upload their information, as well as for researchers to process large amounts of data in a cost-effective manner. Essentially, “cloud computing” refers to the system of a large number of Internet-connected computers used to store and process data. For consumers, cloud computing means a simple and reliable way to store and access data from any device with an Internet connection. Researchers can “rent” computing time in the cloud to process large amounts of data without needing to construct their own data center.
Smartphones, tablets, and the cloud can make it much easier for researchers and subjects to connect to one another. Most importantly, researchers can monitor more aspects of a subject’s life, especially factors that may affect the outcomes of a clinical trial. In addition, subjects can receive information in a much more user-friendly way. Rather than reading through many pages of medical information, researches can disseminate relevant ideas and concepts through interactive graphics, videos, and applications.
Tablets can make it easier for researchers to collect data about a subject outside the clinic environment. Rather than going through the time-consuming process of scheduling and exam preparation, researchers can instead visit the subject in a more convenient location. The portability, long battery life, and natural user interface of many tablets makes them more practical for research.
Lastly, the cloud can greatly reduce the costs and administrative effort associated with processing large amounts of subject data. Rather than setting up a database in each lab, researchers can buy time on powerful mainframe computers, making it faster and more cost-effective to condense massive amounts of information from a clinical trial.
The greatest downside of recent technological advances is security. Smartphones and tablets are major targets of theft, meaning that confidential medical information can potentially land up in the hands of someone looking to sell it. In addition, using these devices on improperly secured Wi-Fi networks opens up the possibility of data being intercepted as a subject uploads it to the cloud. However, by securing their devices and using only trusted Wi-Fi networks, subjects can ensure that their data is safe.
For researchers, the greatest security concern is on the data processing side. Because cloud computing is done on shared servers, it could potentially be the target of malicious hacking, and security measures could be breached. However, with the proper methods of data encryption, these risks can be minimized.
Clinical trials can benefit through the use of recent technology, including smartphones, tablets, and the cloud. Proper security measures can minimize risks and maximize the benefit of such technology.
For more information on how technology is transforming clinical trial design, join us at Clintech 2014- CBI's Clinical Business & Technology Congress taking place March 11-13, 2014 in Cambridge, MA.
(Image courtesy of thelastminute via Flickr)