Clinical trials for cancer and other diseases are vital to test new therapies and improving existing ones. The treatment of cancer, in particular, depends greatly on discovering the optimal combination and timing of chemotherapy agents. Progress in these finer details can be slow and grinding, yet very important to patients, both in improving survival and in avoiding unnecessary toxic treatments.
Given the often surprising abundance of available clinical trials for each disease, finding the optimal one for your patient can be challenging. Each trial is aimed at one or a few diseases and each has its own specific inclusion and exclusion criteria. For physicians and patients searching for a clinical trial, the NIH website clinicaltrials.gov has been a godsend. Without it, there would be no practical way of finding every possible trial. Yet, the website currently currently more than 78,000 trials.
Therefore, providing convenient access to this information and simplifying the searching and categorizing of the information would be of great benefit for patients and physicians. In this review I’ll discuss how this iPhone medical app, Clinical Trials, aims to do just that. It succeeds in the former but unfortunately fails to do the latter.
Like many other applications, Clinical Trials provides a native interface to expose data gleaned from an internet database. The application is very simple to use. It launches into a text search field accompanied by a long table of switches and pickers that constrain the search. These parameters exactly mirror the search parameters on the clinicaltrials.gov website. The search results are displayed as a table, selecting a row displays the details of that trial, again simply transcribed from the clnicaltrials.gov website. That’s it. There is no other functionality. I am impressed that the authors initially priced it at $24.99. It currently sells for $7.99. Mind you, access to the website is free.
What I liked about this app:
- the convenience of being able to search for a trial while still with the patient is potentially very useful
- the search text completion with partial text entry is useful in matching NCI vocabulary
What I did not like about this app:
- there are several user interface quirks which are annoying, examples include: the home page layout is so dense with controls, it is impossible to scroll without changing a setting (it should be split up); the application does not remember where you left off when you relaunch; there is no indication of the total number of matches when searching (other than scrolling down to see how many matched), the various slide and flip animations seem arbitrary
- emailing a link to a trial quits the application to launch Mail and then inserts a long, shameless plug for the app in the email body
What I’d like to see in future updates:
- a search field in the results table to further refine the search results
- the eligibility criteria should be better exposed, since that is often the determining factor in referring the patient
- the sites (i.e. hospitals) of the trials, available on the website, is inexplicably missing from the search results
- the contact information for the trial should be included when emailing the results so the patient (or clinician) receiving the information can easily proceed
- the “vote” button is very rudimentary with no options are offered and no indication of other users’ votes or comments
The primary deficit with this application is that it does not process information from clinicaltrials.gov to make it easier to digest on a mobile device. With a little work, the authors could have presented the data in a more organized, hierarchal method so that the clinician can quickly assess whether their patient is eligible.
That said, I will continue using this application for the simple reason that having quick and convenient access to important information is always valuable. Hopefully, this application and its future successors will allow more patients access to potentially helpful treatments and advance our knowledge of these diseases.