ClinTrial Refer - a mobile app transforming clinical trial access and recruitment

An innovative digital platform is simplifying access – and accelerating recruitment of patients – to clinical trials throughout Australia and beyond. 

Clinical trials are an essential step towards improving health outcomes. Aside from preparing new medical interventions for market, they offer patients potentially life-saving care when alternate options aren’t yet available.

Historically, matching patients with pertinent clinical trials has proved challenging, with insufficient accrual often stemming from poor access to and awareness of open trials. It is estimated that around 90 percent of clinical trials experience recruitment delays in Australia – a statistic shared amongst trial sites around the world.

Such obstacles inspired the 2013 launch of ClinTrial Refer: a mobile smartphone and web-based platform that allows doctors and patients to search for, and connect with, recruiting clinical trials.  

The app was developed by clinical researchers from the public health system in NSW, Professor Judith Trotman and Roslyn Ristuccia, and initially introduced and piloted by the New South Wales Haematology Clinical Research Network to improve trial participation by increasing referrals. Post-launch data collected over a four-year period revealed a nine-fold increase in cross referrals; a 63 percent increase in recruitment of both urban and regional/rural patients across a network of 19 participating clinical trial sites; and a 60 percent increase in trial unit staffing.

Following this success, ClinTrial Refer was made available as a template for other disciplines and subsequently expanded to include a website, 21 derivative apps and more than 300 trial sites across Australia, as well as several international sites.

Though the platform was highly effective, the challenges associated with managing multiple derivative apps with individual needs, focus areas and filters proved cumbersome. With funding through MTPConnect’s Growth Centre Project Fund Program, a new version was consequently developed to combine the existing apps into one globally searchable platform.

User and expert feedback were converted into a design that could:

  • advance the way in which doctors/referrers and patients sourced and filtered relevant trials via the app and website
  • improve sub-optimal participation rates in studies
  • reduce the economic burden on sponsors and sites associated with recruitment delays.

The upgraded app was launched in October 2019 at the Australian Clinical Trials Alliance (ACTA) International Clinical Trials Conference, with the support of the Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care. In the first weeks following its launch, the app amassed more than 800 downloads; as of July 2021, it features more than 1,500 individual trials across 32+ disciplines, with over 680 individual trial sites represented.

Featuring advanced search functionality, the new app allows users to locate trials matching the patient’s age, health condition or disease-specific factors, such as mutation status or tumour type; identify trials offering telehealth options; and find locations and contact information across a growing number of health conditions. Links with the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ANZCTR) and have also been established to ensure fast, efficient downloading of trial information, thereby improving accuracy of content within the platform.

This useful tool is instantly available for clinicians to review during patient consultations and in multidisciplinary team meetings, enabling appropriate trials to be considered for patients in real time. It is also used by study coordinators, research officers, study sponsors and patients to access trial information independently. While current licensees have primarily been clinical trial networks, there is growing interest from a variety of therapeutic areas across a range of organisations, including hospitals, medical research institutes and universities.

Feedback from end-users has been positive, with many praising the ease with which they can identify and refer patients to trials. According to Dr James Lynam, Medical Oncologist at Calvary Mater Newcastle, the app returns relevant results within seconds of searching. 

“That improved the capability of sending patients to other sites for clinical trials, which would have otherwise been difficult and time consuming,” he said. “The streamlined process of referral has improved cross-referral of patients to trials dramatically in New South Wales and Australia.”

The app has likewise been beneficial for clinical trials that involve conditions where patient uptake can be particularly limited. 

“Conducting clinical trials for aplastic anaemia can be hampered due to the rarity of the disease,” explained Vanessa Fox, Project Coordinator at Monash University. “Listing our trial on ClinTrial Refer allows both patients and clinicians to search for the most current and suitable trial options available.”

Lorraine King, Haematology Clinical Research Unit Manager at St George Hospital, agreed, adding: “The app has significantly increased referrals, and subsequent recruitment, for patients out of our area to studies that they would not have otherwise had easy access to.”

Aside from its potential to improve patient outcomes, ClinTrial Refer offers a unique opportunity to increase the number of clinical trials that take place in Australia. 

Not only can the platform be leveraged to attract pharmaceutical companies and boost funding into medical research and innovation, but by increasing the level of clinical research, it contributes to the positioning of Australia as an attractive destination for investment in clinical trials.

It is also providing clinicians and researchers with a new way to connect.

As ClinTrial Refer’s Co-Founder and Executive Manager, Roslyn Ristuccia, explained: “With the community of clinical trialists collaborating with trial data, input is now shared to ensure currency. In this vibrant community, we can develop quick solutions to issues around knowledge management. Cohort management for Phase I studies will increase Australia’s reputation for excellence even further.”

For more information, visit ClinTrial Refer.

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