Smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo, which are based on Voice Assistant (VA) technology and incorporate voice-controlled intelligent technology like Alexa, have made their way into the homes and daily lives of millions of people around the world. As these consumer products continue to see rising rates of adoption, they are grabbing the attention of the pharmaceutical industry, and for good reason.
Clinical research teams are starting to explore VA as a means to expand availability and simplify patient participation in clinical trials. With clinical trial patient dropout rates reaching new heights – leading to longer and more expensive clinical development programs ─ many pharma companies are eager to see if VA might add a compelling option to maintaining patient engagement throughout clinical trials while providing another vehicle to help keep their development programs on track and on budget.
There are 3 areas where VA offers enhanced engagement and flexibility to trial patients and can result in significant benefits to clinical trial sponsors: expanding patient recruitment, increasing patient retention, and improving data quality (figure 1).
Expanding Patient Recruitment
The use of VA can open opportunities for patients who might otherwise be unable or choose not to participate in clinical research studies. Many clinical trials require patients to complete questionnaires on either paper-and-pencil diaries, electronically via smartphones, tablets or desktop applications, or through a caregiver. Patients with manual dexterity problems, e.g., advanced arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, or those who are visually impaired, may not be able to participate due to these constraints. VA can now provide options for these patients.
With VA, a patient can interact with a smart speaker in the home. Through proper activation, the smart speaker can recite the study questions audibly and record the patient’s audio answers, making it easy for them to submit this information, and therefore, enabling them to participate in trials.
By incorporating VA into their trial planning, pharma firms can expand the pool of possible clinical trial participants and achieve two objectives: meet patient enrollment goals sooner and serve patients who may not otherwise have access.
Increasing Patient Retention
Patient retention is of particular interest to those working in drug development – once the patient is enrolled, sustaining their participation in the trial is equally important. VA offers another tool for keepingpatients active in clinical trials. As advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) are enabling smart speakers to deliver more human-like responses than ever before, users find themselves engaging with these devices in a natural, conversational manner.
So, for example, instead of having to call or go to the investigative site, clinical trial patients could use VA to pose questions about various aspects of the trial through their smart speaker and receive a human-like response. It’s expected that making this kind of virtual – and humanistic – training easily accessible during lengthy trials can help patients feel better supported and more likely to remain active in clinical studies.
In fact, our initial research has shown that clinical trial patients begin to consider Alexa as more of a companion, referring to it as ‘she’, i.e., “She can readily answer questions or provide instructions whenever they are needed.” By enabling patients to form this kind of ‘relationship’ it’s easy to see how these devices could be seamlessly integrated into their daily lives, helping them remain compliant throughout lengthy clinical trials.
Improving Data Quality
VA is also expected to help sponsors collect better quality data over the duration of their studies as patients will come to rely on it for frequent, even daily, trial reminders. The ability for patients and study organizers to set reminders and prompts can minimize missing data entries and ensure data are collected at the appropriate times. These features can be particularly important for studies involving relatively small numbers of individuals, such as those for orphan diseases, where every data point is critically important.
Also, smart speakers can be scheduled to remind patients when it’s time to take their medicine (where appropriate), verify the completion of care tasks, such as taking blood pressure readings, and attend investigative site visits, all of which ensures trial sponsors that patients are being compliant with the protocol. This consistent compliance results in more reliable and higher quality data.
VA technology offers researchers the possibility of wide-ranging benefits. Clinical trial sponsors can improve data accuracy and reliability, facilitate more inclusive patient enrollment and reduce participant drop-out rates, all thanks to the technology’s increasing capabilities, accuracy and acceptance as well as its engaging, flexible approach.
These benefits enable the pharmaceutical industry to better connect with and understand patients, ultimately contributing to the goal of better patient health and well-being.
Click here for background on the growing adoption of smart speakers and why they are grabbing the attention of the pharmaceutical industry. To read our final installment in this series, which focuses on how patients can benefit from voice assistance when used in clinical trials, click here.
Andrea Valente is the Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer at ERT.