Online tools, social media ease clinical recruiting, research

Internet-based technology makes it easier to conduct research trials, helping orthopedic surgeons collect outcomes data and monitor complications, according to experts in the field.

"Web innovations have opened up new opportunities to collect and enhance data exchange in healthcare, especially for needed outcome information, as well as clinical research," Patrick A. Smith, an orthopedic surgeon from Columbia, Mo., said in an Orthopedics Today roundtable discussion with physicians who are early adopters of the technique.

Recruiting patients online

"Patients respond to web advertisements or doctor referrals to the study," Nancy E. Lane, an orthopedic surgeon from East Lansing, Mich., explained at the roundtable. "Unlike traditional trials, participants do not need to live near a clinical study site because they will be interacting with a remote central site. 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."

Lane added that patients can go through the screening and consent process, identity verification and join the study--all on their own online. "There are points where the site speaks with them over the phone or via email to address questions and assure their viability as candidates for the study," she added. For example, in a study she's conducting, patients send in X-rays of their knees so that researchers can confirm eligibility.

Using social media sites

Similarly, Mayo Clinic has experimented with recruiting research participants using social media, according to an article posted on the organization's website. Mayo cardiologists reached out to survivors of spontaneous coronary artery dissection--an uncommon and poorly understood heart condition--through patient-run websites dedicated to heart conditions, including women's heart health.

"Patients with rare diseases tend to find one another and connect because they are searching for information and support," said Mayo researcher Marysia Tweet, M.D. "Studies of rare diseases often are underfunded, and people with these conditions are quite motivated."

"This is a completely different research model than Mayo Clinic is used to," Mayo researcher Sharonne Hayes, M.D. said. "Investigators here typically rely on the stores of patient information from the clinic. This was truly patient-initiated research."

Gathering data online

After recruitment is complete and the study is underway, the Orthopedics Today roundtable panelists said, patients continue to participate online by entering information such as safety data and answers to daily questionnaires into the web-based study system, Lane said. Once the study is underway, patients continue to participate online by entering information, such as safety data and answers to daily questionnaires, into the web-based study system, Lane added.

"This allows the patients to provide data from anywhere and anytime they have access the Internet. If a patient falls behind in data entry, the central site is automatically alerted and the patient can be contacted and kept on track," she said.

Connecting physicians via portals

Panelists at Orthopedics Today roundtable noted that online surgeon portals are another important component of conducting research studies online.

"This allows the surgeon to enter in the record for each operative case specific data, such as implants used and operative time, which in turn allows for cost comparisons," Smith said. "Also, the surgeon can enter procedure data relative to how the surgery was done including details, such as graft choice and associated joint pathology, to further fine tune the clinical research."

In addition to making it easier to recruit patients, conducting research studies online also saves the cost of brick-and-mortar facilities and improves efficiency.

"Plus, data retrieval and analysis is instantaneous, which is another major benefit," Smith said.

To learn more:
- read the full Orthopedics Today roundtable
- read Mayo Clinic's social media recruitment article