While certain parts of the world are more connected than others, the growing use of technology for health information purposes has become a worldwide phenomenon. “Digital health” has been a buzzword in global clinical trial management for years—encompassing everything from mobile health (mHealth), health information technology (HIT), wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, and personalized medicine—but only now are healthcare providers moving from experimentation to fully operational deployments.
While the paperless trial era is not yet in full swing, it won’t be long before paper processes for data capture, labeling, global clinical trial recruiting, regulatory compliance, translation, and internal centralization are phased out. Meanwhile, what tools can the industry expect to take advantage of this year and beyond?
- Social media
Social media has become a ubiquitous part of all aspects of daily life, not excluding clinical trials. In addition to setting up recruitment websites, trial sponsors and CROs are increasingly using social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter as recruiting tools and vehicles for providing educational information to trial participants and other patient communities.
As a platform for educational content, the importance of social media—especially to the millennial generation—can’t be overlooked. According to PwC, 40 percent of consumers say social media content affects the way they manage their health, and 90 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds would trust medical information shared by their peers.
Also used for global clinical trial recruiting or to capture data, apps and their compatible mobile devices (including tablets and smartphones) are becoming integral to clinical trial processes. For example, technology companies are developing apps for electronic labeling of investigational medicines, using QR codes that can be scanned to convey instructions for use.
Widespread adoption of mobile devices is also helping to collect patient-reported outcomes (PROs)—an increasingly important endpoint in clinical trial design—and opening up new channels of communication between doctors and patients. Instead of making an appointment to see their physician, patients in remote locations can use their smartphones to initiate e-consultations. Pharma and biotech companies, too, can use specialized apps to administer patient questionnaires and remind patients about scheduled trial site visits.
- Wearable devices
In an increasingly “always-on” environment, the worldwide adoption of wearable devices is expected to jump from 325 million in 2016 to about 830 million in 2020. The popularity of Fitbits and other wearables has exploded, helping patients monitor their blood pressure, glucose levels, and other risk factors, while also facilitating physician access to information about symptoms, disease patterns, and adverse events.
Experts suggest wearables have enormous cost-saving potential, as they motivate users to take more control over their health and can help curb unhealthy lifestyles that lead to chronic conditions. Even more exciting, wearable tech is already able to detect serious medical conditions.
- Companion diagnostic devices
Much like the paperless era, the personalized medicine revolution has yet to fully take hold. However, the pharmaceutical industry and research committees are clearly moving in that direction—and advanced analytics may play a key role.
Technology companies are developing in vitro companion diagnostic devices that pharma companies can use to target specific diseases based on patients’ personalized genomic profiles. Diagnostic tests can help healthcare providers weigh a product’s benefits and risks, may also be helpful for data-gathering purposes, and thus may encourage drug companies and regulatory bodies to share data.
The Compliance Factor
While we can’t know for sure which new technologies will be accepted as the norm for global clinical trial recruiting and management—especially those in early development or yet to be invented—these advances are expected to make clinical trials more efficient and possibly shorten drug development timelines.
Of course, the collection, use, and exchange of personal data raises significant concerns about data storage, security, and privacy. If they have not already done so, life sciences companies handling sensitive personal information will need to safeguard patient data and ensure global clinical trial compliance with privacy laws of relevant markets.
The debate, now and in the near future, is how compliance will affect the adoption of new technologies—and whether pharma companies are prepared to overcome regulatory pitfalls quickly to adopt innovations before their competitors do.
This blog post is based on a chapter of our new whitepaper, Adapting to Geographic Shifts in the Pharmaceutical Market: Forces of Change in the Industry. To download a copy and learn more about global changes in pharmaceutical practices, click here.