Crowdsourcing a promising complement to traditional clinical trial research studies

Online recruitment of participants for healthcare studies is becoming more valuable to researchers, a study published last week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research concluded. Because crowdsourcing can reach more people in a shorter amount of time, while also offering the "possibility of near real-time testing," the practice has the potential to shift the focus of studies from finding cures for diseases to preventing them.

The study looked at sites such as the healthcare social network PatientsLikeMe and 23andMe, a genotyping community. According to the study, more than 25 PatientsLikeMe-authored papers have been published in various peer-reviewed journals including Nature Biotechnology and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What's more, more than three-fourths of 23andMe participants said they would be willing to participate in research studies, according to the author.

The study also examines the use of self-tracking tools in data collection for such studies. According to the study's author, "as widespread low-cost access to automated data collection tools grows, the number of individuals self-tracking and monitoring their health behavior could increase substantially."

Platforms such as Twitter and Google already have been shown to be effective research tools in healthcare. As FierceHealthIT reported in January, a study that appeared in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene found that a timeline using the term "cholera" and the Twitter hashtag "#cholera" created enough data to retroactively predict a cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010.

Additionally, we reported on a study that appeared in the January edition of the journal Clinical Infectious Disease concluded that targeted Internet traffic could serve as a good predictor of patient activity for hospitals. 

Some physicians say that web innovations enhance opportunities to collect healthcare data. "Unlike traditional trials, participants do not need to live near a clinical study site because they will be interacting with a remote central site," Nancy E. Lane, an orthopedic surgeon from East Lansing, Mich., said, according to a recent FierceHealthIT article. "Patients can conveniently join a study, and sponsors do not need to spend as much time and money starting up sites across the United States."

For more information:
- here's the JMIR study
- check out the PatientsLikeMe website
- go to the 23andMe website

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