Mobile tech isn't ideal for recruitment in clinical trials

Virtual clinical trials are a hot topic this week at DIA 2012. And a panel today tackled the topic with an emphasis on how mobile technology fits into the range of tools for recruiting patients into clinical studies. Industry veterans showed that mobile tech has some definite benefits in trials such as keeping tabs on patients' conditions outside of traditional clinics, but there wasn't a strong made case for using smartphone apps and other mobile innovations for recruitment.

"If we're using [mobile technologies] as a means to recruit patients, we're not there yet," said Neil Weisman, executive vice president and general manager of Blue Chip Patient Recruitment, during the panel.

His remarks rebutted the title of his panel, "The Next Patient Recruitment Frontier: Leveraging Mobile Health Care Technology (mHealth) to Recruit Patients for Clinical Trials." Eighteen percent of consumers use their mobile phones to download health-related apps, and 26% use their smartphones to visit health-related websites, according to figures from Blue Chip's study, as reported by Pharmalot. Weisman reasons that these findings provide weak support for using mobile tech to enlist patients for studies.

A backdrop for the panel was news last week that Pfizer ($PFE) threw in the towel on recruitment for its completely virtual trial for the approved overactive bladder drug Detrol. While the drug giant found that aspects of the trial such as using mobile devices for patients to report their condition and a multimedia informed consent process worked, Pfizer failed to rally enough patients to take part in the trial with online and social media tools.

In hindsight, overactive bladder probably wasn't an ideal condition for the pioneering trial because there are a lot of existing drugs for the condition and patients aren't as likely to search for information about it online, said Tim Davis, co-founder and CEO of Exco InTouch, which worked with Pfizer on the study. However, he noted that the study had "very good" success in getting patients to report their health data with mobile phones sent to them as part of the trial, and that aspect of the study and several others are being applied in studies now.

Pfizer plans to start a separate virtual study testing the model in Europe down the road, and Davis says traditional physician referrals and marketing outreach would be prudent recruitment strategies for the study. While mobile tech-focused recruitment may not be ready for prime time, he said the use of mobile tech for other aspects of trials such as patient engagement has gained acceptance.

"We're seeing that mobile health initiatives, which are typically associated with hospitals or branding initiatives, are entering clinical trials," Davis said. "Now, regulators and ethics boards are comfortable with these technologies being introduced into clinical trials."

- see Pharmalot's article