The Internet of Medical Things and the Future of Clinical Trials

As Data Scientists, we must always be aware of advances in technologies, and be prepared for what’s coming down the pike. It’s obvious to all of us by now, how the Internet of Things (IoT) is influencing just about every aspect of our lives. Our cars, home appliances, security systems, shopping preferences, and just about everything we touch, is connected in some way to the Internet. It is estimated that by this coming year, the IoT will comprise over 30 billion connected devices! Every industry has been affected by the internet’s expansion in some way, and now healthcare is taking its turn.

Many veterinarians and doctors are already utilizing data sharing to benefit their patients, and although there is still a long way to go, the potential of health data networking is massive. More than likely, there are over 20,000 clinical trials underway in the U.S. at this very moment, carrying a price tag of 30-40 million dollars for just the first three phases of study, with yet another phase to go. According to statistics, half of the 20,000 will not survive past Phase 3.

While there are many factors that contribute to the high failure rate of early clinical trials, undoubtedly, the IoT is positioned to increase patient participation and improve data collection, data sharing, and cost reduction. Medical data is an extremely powerful tool and connected medical devices have an amazing potential to collect data in new, efficient, and cost-effective ways. 

 

For clinical trials, the new focus is on wearable devices and ingestible sensors. As early as 2015, the Washington Post reported, "The research firm Gartner forecasts that 68.1 million wearable devices will be shipped this year...and a survey by Nielsen last year indicated that 61% of those aware of wearable technology for tracking and monitoring medical conditions use fitness bands." 

There is a strong indication that using connected wearable devices may not only result in more accurate data, but will improve patient participation and retention in studies, due to increased convenience. There is also the benefit of peace-of-mind when patients know they are being constantly monitored, and in fact, the safety of studies is greatly increased when researchers have the ability to intervene at the first sign of possible trouble. 

This from the Clinical Leader: “Consider for a moment the potential effect that combining the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) and a pharmaceutical (product) have on outcomes. It might sound futuristic, but it’s not. In 2017, a treatment delivery system combining a drug with an ingestible digital tracking system was approved by the U.S. FDA for the treatment of schizophrenia, the acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar disorder, and as an add-on treatment for depression in adults. In addition to the ingestible sensor, the system includes a wearable receiver patch, a mobile app, and the drug itself. Patients who have schizophrenia often stop taking their medicine, triggering psychotic episodes that can have severe consequences. While the real-world results are still being understood, some in the payer community have recently taken notice and are collaborating in an attempt to improve outcomes in a difficult-to-treat disease.”

Indeed, these are amazing advances that will definitely alter the world of Data Science, and qualified programmers will play a crucial role in turning this massive amount of data into practical applications. This is a good time to be a Data Scientist.

 

Dolores Green, CEO of the Inland Empire Foundation for Medical Care and Executive Director of the Riverside County Medical Association, wrote in a recent commentary for Modern Healthcare, “Data exchange affords us insight that’s life-saving, cost-effective and allows providers to make an impact… Improving patient outcomes and reducing cost isn’t just about data, it’s about utilizing data effectively and turning it into a usable source…According to a recent report from the American Hospital Association, it’s most often the inability to utilize received data within receiving provider technologies that is a major hindrance to interoperability.” She emphasizes: “It’s time to connect to health data networks.”

No matter how much data is collected, it’s worthless if not properly interpreted and managed, in any setting. For clinical trials, it needs to be properly handled by companies that specialize in transforming pharmaceutical data into reports for FDA submissions. Ideally, someday these reports will be integrated with reliable data repositories, and will universally benefit the advancement of life-saving drugs. 

 

And yes, there are people working hard at making these dreams a reality. November 4-5, 2019, the 5th Annual Clinical Trials IoT & Digital Endpoints Forum will convene at Pfizer’s Innovation Research Lab in Cambridge, with the purpose of exploring better data collection, improving patient experience, and securing patient data. 

This from their website (subtitled – ‘How mHealth, Wearables, Digital Endpoints and the Internet of Things will Create the Clinical Trials of the Future’):

“For the 5th year, experts will converge at the forefront of wearable technologies, data management, analytics, and early detection and diagnosis for pharma clinical trials. Join 30+ speakers, 120+ senior-level pharma, clinical trials, technology and mHealth executives…to learn, network, develop and improve the way pharma clinical trials utilize mobile-enabled devices, wearables, and internet of things to improve the patient experience and collect better data.”

The impact of the Internet of Things technologies in medical research is huge and its potential to improve the standard of care for the masses is imminent. Our job as Data Scientists now, is to be ready for it.