July 3rd, 2019

Microsoft Thinks AI Could Solve Clinical Trial Recruitment Problems

microsoft AI

By matching eligible patients with clinical trials, Microsoft’s new AI bot may help address long-standing recruitment challenges.

Many sponsors and CROs face costly delays with their clinical trials while attempting to reach enrollment numbers, and almost 40% of studies are terminated due to slow recruitment. Meanwhile, patients continue to live with chronic or terminal illnesses with low cure rates or no cure at all. It’s not that these patients aren’t interested in participating in clinical trials – it’s just that the barriers to entry are numerous.

At any given time, sponsors are seeking patients for nearly 50,000 clinical trials worldwide, and each of these trials typically contains about 20 to 30 criteria for participation. Searching for a trial that’s accessible and for which a patient is eligible is an arduous process – one that even doctors struggle with. However, a solution may be just around the corner, thanks to Microsoft’s healthcare bot initiative, which is harnessing the power of AI to match patients to relevant clinical trials.

Solving a Long-Standing Problem

Microsoft’s new chatbot began as a hackathon project at the company’s lab in Israel, but it has the potential to develop into much more. The bot, currently called the Clinical Trials Bot, quickly links patients and doctors to clinical trial matches after they answer a series of text questions.

Users type in a search, such as “trials for a 48-year old New York female with breast cancer,” and the bot will respond with questions such as whether the patient’s cancer has spread and how far the patient is willing to travel. As the patient answers, the software refines the list of available trials.

This technology has the potential to fill a major need in the clinical trial world, and it’s already making waves. It was accepted into the U.S. White House Presidential Fellows program, and was demonstrated at the White House and the U.S. Census Bureau in early March.

However, despite the early hype, Microsoft reportedly isn’t interested in releasing the bot as a standalone product. Rather, the software company is in talks with pharmaceutical companies, who can use the bot to find participants, and other potential partners, who may turn the bot into a patient-facing tool.

Reaching Patients with Available Tools

Although the bot shows great promise for solving persistent recruitment challenges, Microsoft has yet to announce an official release date. The product is still in development for a patient-facing audience, so it’s likely to be quite a while before it’s actually rolled out to the public. Until then, digital marketing is the best way for clinical trials to reach qualified patients.

Studies show that over 70% of US adults with at least one chronic condition have looked for health-related information online, and nearly half have also posted or shared a post about their chronic condition. This active engagement offers sponsors and CROs a rich opportunity to reach out to patients who are already active online. Developing an effective SEO strategy and utilizing PPC tools like Google Ads can be one way to meet patients right where they are: searching for solutions.

In addition, only 11% of clinical trials currently use social media for recruitment, though social media ads are a cost-effective and efficient means of reaching patients. They can be used to target users who fit certain geographic or demographic parameters, or those who have already interacted with content related to a particular condition. 

Until AI offers a long-term solution to clinical trials’ recruitment woes, these digital marketing strategies can help CROs and sponsors reach a diverse group of patients that may not have otherwise been aware of a trial’s existence. For the time being, studies should keep an eye on valuable AI developments, while maintaining a robust digital marketing strategy.