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How wearable technology has reinvented clinical trials

Wearable technology has become a normal part of everyday life, from fitness trackers and smart watches to smart jewellery and implantables, more sophisticated wearable medical devices are reaching the market each year. These electronic devices are defined as having a microprocessor which allows the data collected from the user to then be reported back and help them track a range of things such as the heart rate and sleeping pattern and more complex factors like seizures.

In clinical trials, wearables are considered research tools and are used much in the same way - to collect data in real-time. In 2019, between 10-15% of clinical trials were taking advantage of the many benefits of using wearable technology, but how have these devices reinvented the trials?

They improve patient retention

Wearables make each stage of the clinical trial more patient centric and therefore improve the overall patient experience. The medical devices limit the number of follow-up sessions a patient must attend at a clinic and this has been of particular importance during the pandemic since both patients and clinical trial staff were restricted from leaving their homes.

Though there were issues in the earlier years of wearable medical devices, such as receiving approval from the Institutional Review Board and showing older patients how to use the technology, there has been a noticeable shift. Marie McCarthy, senior director of product innovation at ICON, shares that “Previously wearables were viewed as niche and the value hadn’t been established or perceived to be worthwhile. Now, we’re seeing the use of wearables to manage patients in their own home environment outside of the clinic as having huge value.”.

According to Silicon Valley tech company Intel, by 2025 around 70% of clinical trials will use sensors that can track activity rate, glucose level and cardiac activity among other essential information.

They reduce the cost of clinical research

The latest figures from LSE show that it costs on average $1.3 billion to get a drug to market which is lower than previously reported but there’s the chance to slash that figure even further. On-site assessments are costly and inefficient, especially at phase III of a clinical trial where as many as 3,000 patients are recruited, but using wearable technology clinical research associates can monitor endpoints such as sleep, respiration rate and even perform a gait assessment on people with Parkinson’s disease without needing to be face-to-face with the patient. Additionally, recording high-quality data using portable devices eliminates the need for expensive medical equipment like the telemetry device.

The value of real-time data

Perhaps the most significant advantage of using wearables in a clinical trial is the potential to collect patient data continuously in real-time. What’s more, observing patient health activity solely in clinics only gives a snapshot of what is happening while 99% of patient data is actually produced outside of this setting. By using wearable technology in clinical trials companies can get a better understanding of adverse effects and collect higher quality data. Wearables are reshaping healthcare because they’re enabling the pharmaceutical industry to get a clearer picture of how drugs and treatments can improve a patient’s quality of life. 

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They’re essential for virtual trials

With the outbreak of Covid-19, much of the clinical trial market was brought to a standstill. As many companies faced the challenge of keeping clinical trials on-track during lockdown restrictions, researchers recognised how wearables improve the accessibility of trials - both to patients who cannot leave their home because of an illness or those unable due to the pandemic. This shows how the devices are accelerating the use of technology in clinical research and pushing clinical trials to go virtual.

Make your contribution to the clinical trial market

It’s an exciting time to be working in the clinical trial market and at ICON we have plenty of stimulating roles where you make your stamp in the industry. Search through our latest clinical research jobs or find out about our digital interviewing process.


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