Clinical trials are a fundamental part of developing new treatments, drugs, and medical devices that power better patient care. However, traditional clinical trials present challenges for both researchers and participants. They can be expensive,difficult and time consuming for patients to participate, and lack diversity.
The rise in adoption of decentralized clinical trials leverages digital technologies to improve participant access and engagement and provides researchers with powerful data insights that contribute to the development of new treatments.
The rise of digital tools in healthcare
A silver-lining to Covid-19 was the acceleration and adoption of remote patient monitoring. These digital tools not only protected patients from exposure to the virus, but also helped to reduce pressure on hospitals overwhelmed during the pandemic. Similarly, remote technologies have been critical for the continuation of clinical trials during the pandemic by enabling patients to participate from home.
An increased focus on innovation in the health and wellness industry over the past few years has led to the emergence of wearable and mobile technologies. These devices are used in trials, enabling participants to measure and record their own health parameters. Using a smartphone, patients can record information such as their heart rate, sleep quality, respiratory rate, physical activity and symptoms from the comfort of their own home.
Thanks to the adoption of these technologies in healthcare, clinical trials can be conducted more virtually. This decentralization of trials helps to lift barriers to participation for patients who live far away from research centers or do not want to be burdened with the frequent in-person interactions with clinicians.
For researchers, conducting decentralized clinical trials widens the pool of participants so that more diverse data can be gathered, provides access to participants’ health data in a real-time, real-world setting, and speeds the enrollment and completion of trials. Monitoring individuals in their own homes while they go about their day-to-day lives, means researchers can get a 360 degree view of each participant, resulting in potentially more detailed and informed findings.
Digital biomarkers for more powerful insights
Remote patient monitoring technology has also unlocked the world of digital biomarkers - these are objective, quantifiable physiological and behavioral measures that can be collected and measured by digital devices.
New non-invasive ways of measuring digital biomarkers are continuously being developed, and these methods are already providing researchers and clinical teams with more powerful insights than ever before. For example, wearable sweat sensors can detect a patient’s glucose, lactate and electrolyte levels, while smartphone-based cognitive tests can be used to measure visual acuity and detect cognitive decline.
As different health parameters become easier for trial participants to record and for researchers to collect and analyze, we will be able to gain more information about how to drive more proactive care for patients.
The future of clinical trials
Decentralized clinical trials are not a new concept, but Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of this approach to research. We can already see the advantages of remote participation for gathering powerful real-time, real-world data and for enabling a larger and more diverse participant pool. If, as we expect, innovation continues to accelerate as it has in recent years, more and more medical devices and tools for collecting health data will be developed and validated. This means we will be able to gain even greater and more valuable insights into people’s health without too much disruption to their lives. Using this powerful data, healthcare and research teams will continue to develop treatments that could transform medicine and help people with any condition live fuller, longer lives.
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