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Clinical research: The benefits of using digital tools

Discover the importance of using digital tools in conducting clinical research.
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Hello, I’m Professor Gareth Griffiths from the National Institute for Health Research, Southampton Clinical Trials Unit. Welcome to our course about the use of digital tools in clinical research. So why have we developed this course? Well, we developed this course to allow researchers thinking of using digital tools for clinical trials and especially colleagues across the NIHR to learn which digital tools are available for recruitment and retention, what the evidence is for the effectiveness and efficacy, and how valid and reliable the studies that provide this evidence are. This will create awareness among NIHR and other clinical trials unit staff about the potential benefits of using digital tools in their research.
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The use of digital tools has the potential to enhance a clinical trial, by digital tools I mean a wide variety of different types of tools, ranging from social media to database matching programs and project websites. Using these tools, you may have the potential to improve clinical trial, recruitment and retention rates, recruitment efficacy and reach, ensure appropriate age, gender, ethnic and other characteristics of trial participants. However, a previous NIHR research project that we ran, included a survey of UKCRC-registered clinical trials showing low usage rates of digital tools. This was interesting and perhaps surprising, to understand why there was such a low usage rate.
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We carried out in-depth interviews with 16 stakeholders, from the public to researchers, ethics committees and funders, and identified common themes underlying this low usage rate. This evidence will be presented in the form of animated videos at the end of each week, you will find these results interesting and helpful.
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To quantify and locate evidence about the digital tools actually being used in clinical trials, we also carried out a wide range in systematic mapping exercise that identified one hundred and one eligible studies.
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We also engaged with the UKCRC CTU network about our research and the frequently asked questions were “What actually is a digital tool?” and “Can you give examples of these tools?” and “What support is available so staff could potentially use these tools within our CTU?”.
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This told us the further information to support was needed for CTU researchers.
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This course is designed to reveal the findings from our research and to increase awareness about the use of digital tools in research. He will also give key information and support to researchers wanted to understand how to get the best out of digital tools in their clinical research.
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Here are some other voices on the importance of digital tools and how this course might help you. The NIHR RDS is all about supporting our researchers to develop high-quality research funding applications for NIHR studies. This course will be useful not only for RDS staff to help them identify appropriate evidence-based tools to consider using in funding proposals, but also for future NIHR researchers to really help them understand how to actually use these tools in their studies, and that will maximize the recruitment and retention of participants in their work.
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Trial Forage aims to look across all trial processes with the intention of trying to improve them all, even if by just a tiny amount, because these small gains will add up when applied across a whole trial system. Now we work with the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, clinical trials units such as, Southampton and Bristol, which are involved with this project, to initiate and coordinate studies within a trial or SWATS that can create the evidence to improve trial processes, and having an e-learning tool that clarifies what evidence there is for digital tools is incredibly useful because Trial Forge will then be able to work with the clinical trials units to potentially do squats to improve this evidence.
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Our links with the project team mean that the e-learning can then be updated as more evidence becomes available.

In this short video, Gareth Griffiths welcomes you and introduces you to clinical research and other topics that you will cover in the course.

Clinical research course

This course has been put together by the University of Southampton working with a range of colleagues around the UK. It presents evidence from an NIHR-funded project that looked at the effectiveness of digital tools in clinical trials. We will be presenting you with our evidence and offering you guidance on how to use digital tools effectively in your own research work. We are keen to hear your experiences too!

Our research project is a collaboration between the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, the Bristol Randomised Trials Collaboration and the Wessex institute, including the Southampton Health Technology Assessments Centre (SHTAC) with close involvement of stakeholder from NIHR Wessex and West of England Clinical Research Networks, Research Design Service South Central, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust R&D and Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) to ensure we create something fit for purpose for the NIHR and UK clinical trial community.

Why is the course important?

Dr Stephen Falk, Clinical Director of the West of England NIHR CRN:

“The NIHR digital strategy aims to capitalise on technology and communication advances so that we can accelerate treatment and improve outcomes for patients. This project fits really well with this strategy and this course will be very helpful to the national CRN research nurse community as we look to utilise digital approaches to help ensure we deliver studies effectively”.

Professor Robert Peveler, Clinical Director for NHS Engagement, NIHR Clinical Research Network:

“Digital tools have enormous potential to improve the quantity and the quality of research that we are able to conduct in the UK.  By using them, we can streamline recruitment and retention of participants, and improve the speed and accuracy of data collection. They also permit remote trial delivery, which has become a priority during the current pandemic, which has severely limited opportunities for participants to attend hospital and healthcare delivery sites.  We will come to rely on them more and more in the future”.

Meet our team

This course has been put together by the University of Southampton but it arises from research work carried out by a team working in a range of Universities and organisations from across the UK. The team are listed here and you will meet many of them during this course.

  • Giorgos Dritsakis, Trial Manager, Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, University of Southampton
  • Jacqui Nuttall, Head of Trial Management, Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, University of Southampton
  • Gareth Griffiths, Professor of Clinical Trials, Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, University of Southampton
  • Athene Lane, Professor in Trials Research, Co-Director Bristol Randomised Trials Collaboration, University of Bristol
  • Amanda Blatch-Jones, Senior Research Fellow, NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, University of Southampton
  • Geoff Frampton, Senior Research Fellow, Southampton Health Technology Assessments Centre (SHTAC), University of Southampton
  • Jonathan Shepherd, Principal Research Fellow, Southampton Health Technology Assessments Centre (SHTAC), University of Southampton
  • Lois Woods, Senior Research Assistant, Southampton Health Technology Assessments Centre (SHTAC), University of Southampton
  • Clare Clement, Senior Research Associate, Bristol Trials Centre (BRTC), University of Bristol

External collaborators

  • Professor Shaun Treweek, Professor of Health Services Research, Health Services Research Unit, University of Aberdeen & Trial Forge lead
  • Professor Issy Reading, Director of NIHR Research Design Service South Central
  • Professor Robert Peveler, Clinical Director for NHS Engagement, NIHR Clinical Research Network
  • Dr Stephen Falk, Clinical Director of the West of England NIHR CRN

Your online mentoring team

During the course, Giorgos will support you in the discussions and with your questions.

You can follow him by clicking the link to his FutureLearn profile page and selecting ‘follow’. That way, you’ll be able to see all the comments that he makes.

Checking your progress …

When you reach the end of a step and have understood everything, click the Mark as Complete button. This will update your progress page and will help you to keep track of which steps you’ve done. Any steps you’ve completed will turn blue on your To Do list.

You can check your progress page by clicking the icon at the top of the step, where you’ll see what percentage of the course steps you’ve marked as complete.

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