For some patients, participating in clinical trials can seem a daunting experience. The demands of managing treatment regimens as well as frequent investigative site visits and sometimes daily data submission may be enough to discourage them from participating, even if the trial might open doors to treatment options otherwise unavailable to them.
But, could today’s advanced consumer technology – particularly voice assistant (VA)-enabled smart speakers like Amazons Echo – be a game-changer? Many in the industry think so. For example, Bayer is using virtual assistants to support clinical trial patients, citing that since VA surrounds people in real life, they have the same expectations when participating in clinical trials.1
We recently conducted a study to evaluate if VA technology could be used to collect electronic patient reported outcomes (ePRO) data and if it would enhance a patient’s clinical trial experience. During the study, 15 healthy subjects of various ages engaged with Amazon Echo to answer a Rheumatoid Arthritis questionnaire, and then were asked about their experience.
We learned a number of ways that VA can simplify patients’ participation and improve their overall experience in clinical trials. Let’s review a few here.
Many clinical trials require patients to complete questionnaires on either paper-and-pencil diaries, or electronically via smartphones, tablets or desktop applications, which can be burdensome to some patients. But this burden can be overcome with VA. Through a customized skill, the smart speaker can recite the study questions audibly and record patients’ verbal responses, making it easy for them to submit this information throughout clinical trials.
This feature could be beneficial to many patients. For patients leading busy lives, VA enables them to provide responses through a smart speaker while getting ready for work, traveling or doing other tasks. In this way, VA gives patients the freedom to participate in studies on their own terms.
Additionally, for patients with manual dexterity problems, e.g., advanced arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, participating in trials may not be an option when manual data submission is required. Or, if they do participate they may fail to enter their responses regularly, eventually becoming non-compliant or entirely disengaged with the study. VA enables them to participate and easily comply with the data collection aspect of many clinical trials, removing an obstacle that might otherwise keep them from receiving much-needed treatment options.
Study Findings: Data Submission
Our study confirmed that VA can be used effectively as a trial data collection tool. In fact, when asked how they would prefer to respond to daily study questions, participants strongly indicated their desire to use voice for input either solely, or as an option along with app data entry (figure 1).2
The study also shed light on some important factors to consider when designing a voice solution for clinical trial use. One finding was the importance of building the VA workflow so that it repeats the patient’s responses, i.e., “You answered 3, is that correct?” to ensure that the smart speaker heard the patient’s response correctly and is submitting the correct data to the database.
Instructions & FAQs
One of the biggest advantages of incorporating VA into clinical research is that it offers a more engaging experience for patients. Thanks to intelligent speech recognition, VA allows participants to have enriched, natural-language conversations. As a result, VA essentially turns ordinary smart speaker technologies into a helpful ‘companion,’ which can give answers to frequently asked questions, as well as on-demand instructions for critical trial-related tasks, such as taking blood pressure readings, checking blood sugar levels, etc.
The device can repeat the information as frequently as needed, which can be especially valuable for certain groups of patients (e.g. those with disabilities) who may find the other options – calling or traveling to investigative sites ─ to be particularly challenging. So, having immediate access to the support and reassurance of a human-like, talking ‘companion’ could be of great value in simplifying study-related tasks and keeping patients better engaged throughout clinical trials.
Medication and Site Visit Reminder
Many smart speaker owners rely on their devices routinely throughout the day – to create shopping lists, get restaurant recommendations and listen to music, among other uses. Since they’ve become so integrated into many users’ daily lives, it is expected that during a clinical trial, VA-enabled smart speakers could serve a great benefit to patients by reminding them to take their medication, attend scheduled investigative site visits, respond to questionnaires and conduct other tasks that help them comply with the study protocol.
Study Findings: Enhancing Patient Experience
Our study subjects indicated that their overall experience was positive, with 93%, rating the experience of speaking with Alexa as enjoyable and easy to use (figure 2). The study concluded that despite some specific concerns regarding language barriers, privacy and data security, voice assistants have the potential to collect patient reported outcomes and can be an engagement mechanism during clinical trials.2
Ultimately, if implemented correctly, VA could play a significant role in improving clinical trial patients’ experiences and keeping them better engaged during lengthy trials. When you consider the additional benefits that sponsors can recognize in terms of improving the quality and reliability of patient-submitted data, we may find VA technology being used to improve clinical research in the near future.
Learn more about the role VA can play in clinical research by reading the earlier installments to this series, including ‘Improving Clinical Research through Voice Assistance’ and ‘3 Ways Sponsors benefit from using Voice Assistance.’
Karin Beckstrom is a Senior Product Manager at ERT.
- “Virtual Assistants for Sites and Patients in Clinical Trials,” presented at DPharm: Disruptive Innovations, September 2018
- “Evaluating Use of Voice Assistant Technology for ePRO Data Capture and Engagement in Clinical Trials”; Yamamoto, R., presented at DIA Annual Meeting, June 2018