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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 research sites, they could soon be reality.

With the US healthcare industry now producing 2,314 exabytes of data every year, the future of clinical 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 research sites can find a way to process this scale of data, they will be able to understand how their clinical studies 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 clinical studies concerning this particular age group, such as Alzheimer’s clinical trials 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 clinical 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 research sites running clinical 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, clinical 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 research sites 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 clinical 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, research sites 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 clinical protocol, in many areas of clinical recruitment and patient-welfare, just aren’t cutting it anymore. With our digital world now demanding digital solutions, clinical research recruiters 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 created the ideal patient recruitment dashboard to help any researcher improve their current metrics. With over 3 million patients on record, we ensure research sites are connected to a thoroughly educated and engaged pool of participants; so, it is no wonder why we have such high patient confidence! Now, we would say that other models are available - but this would be a lie. In fact, unlike that offered by other patient recruitment companies, our easy-to-use dashboard is the first-of-its-kind for the market; giving researchers a unique insight into their patients’ wants and needs via industry-leading technology. The future of clinical recruitment starts here.

  • Interested in finding out more? Get in touch with us here, and check out our archives for all our top tips and tricks on running successful clinical trials in today's constantly changing industry.

Still a little unsure? Check out what our customers have to say about us here.


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