• Joanna Thomson

Big data: solving the big issues of clinical research

The days of paper surveys and postal questionnaires are well and truly over. With smartphone users generating around 40 exabytes of data a month - and that is a lot of data if we consider the 5 billion users of these devices - understanding patient wants and needs has never been easier. Not only this, according to a recent survey by the McKinsey Global Institute, big data could generate up to $100 billion in value annually for the healthcare industry. For now, these big ideas for the industry remain conceptual but, for tech-savvy researchers, they could soon be reality.

With the US healthcare industry now producing 2,314 exabytes of data every year, the future of medical research will involve a data-driven approach to maintaining the patient-researcher relationship. So, today, we take a look at how big data is impacting the clinical trial process and how the industry must evolve to reap the benefits.


The first and foremost area of significant change can be found in patient recruitment protocol, as more data from patients could mean a more complete picture of patient lifestyles. It’s estimated that, every minute, 3.8 million searches are made on Google, 2.1 million snaps are shared on snapchat, and 1 million people log onto Facebook. If researchers can find a way to process this scale of data, they will be able to understand how their research can align with the individual’s everyday life. From this, the industry as a whole can look to produce more meaningful methods of connecting with potential patients, person to person.

For instance, according to the latest figures produced by Facebook, 62% of online seniors (that is, people 65 or older who regularly use the internet) have a registered profile on the site. This kind of conclusion, based on big data gathered and processed by the site, indicates that the older population is now more tech-aware than ever before. Therefore, patient recruitment - especially for trials concerning this particular age group, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia research - should look to invest in digital marketing to appeal to potential patients.


Similar can be said about patient engagement. If we can now track what potential patients want and need from medical research, we most certainly can carefully monitor their engagement with a trial underway - something that was a practical impossibility at one time or another. In recent years, advances in technology have meant that patient-reported outcomes can be accurately assessed and any non-compliance can be detected relatively easily.

For researchers running trials over extensive periods of time, it has always been a struggle to avoid non-compliance. Some of the most common issues in this area concern compliance deficiencies in the following: participant safety concerns, protocol deviations, informed consent violations, and failure to maintain adequate case histories. Yet, with the help of digital monitoring apps, these could soon be problems of the past. Data collected from patients through these apps can be carefully organised and monitored for any significant changes that could endanger the patient’s welfare or the integrity of their data during the trial’s run.


Following the same line of thought, new methods of attracting potential patients and monitoring their progress must mean new methods of communication in general. It’s of the highest importance that, while digitalisation has the potential to bring a lot of benefits for the researcher, that we remember communication is a two-way process. Therefore, it is vital that researchers use these platforms not merely as a means to observe their subjects and their behaviours, but as a prime opportunity to survey their patients’ thoughts and fears. In this, lies the key to improving the industry’s anxiety over the researcher-patient relationship that sees around 85% of trials fail to retain patients until the end of a study.

A recent report by Forte Research found that 48% of patients who dropped out of the studies surveyed said they were primarily motivated by “myself” to stay enrolled. If we compare this with the 20% who listed “their relationship with the study staff” as a motivational factor, it’s clear that feelings of isolation seem to be a common occurrence among patients. By providing an online or in-app platform for patients to discuss their worries, researchers can utilise the full extent of benefits provided by digitalisation that, ultimately, works to shape clinical trials into comfortable and patient-friendly environments.

What is clear is that traditional methodologies, in many areas of recruitment and patient-welfare, just aren’t cutting it anymore. With our digital world now demanding digital solutions, clinical trial operators must now seriously consider the impact of big data to further their own understanding of the patient’s wants and needs. Partnering with analytics and marketing experts is now an essential step in trial planning that will soon become standard practice - even for smaller companies or independent researchers.

Here at Citruslabs, we’ve developed software for researchers that meets this demand. Our patient-recruitment dashboard gives researchers access to a database with data from over 3 million patients on record. Not only this, but our patient network also draws from the leading app for baby boomers and the #1 health app across 17 countries. We make it our priority to ensure that patients are educated and interested in the trial process, and so it is not hard to see why we have a track-record in producing high patient confidence.

  • Want to find out more? Get in touch with us, here, or check out our archives for all our top tips and tricks on how to adapt your study for the digital age.



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