Clinical Trials and Search

You are sitting in the doctor’s office on that crinkly paper that pops every time you move. Your physician is leaning against a table and has just uttered some words that were a diagnosis.  It is a serious diagnosis.  For a while, you don’t even hear anything else.  The news has made time stop for a bit as you realize your life will never be the same.  You don’t even hear anything the doctor is saying at this point.

However, at some point, you or your care partner will begin to take action.  You will likely want to learn as much as you can about your new enemy and about opportunities that might be available to you.  And one of the first places you will probably go is the Internet. What happens when you do?

As a little experiment, I entered several different disease states into the search bar.  What came up was interesting.  What didn’t come up was also interesting.

Entering the terms “breast cancer”, “prostate cancer”, “diabetes”, “HIV” and “hypertension”.  Using diabetes as an example – what came up on the first upper page of the search were (1) ads for unspecified treatments, (2) ads for meal plans, (3) ads for supplies and (4) ads for getting information about signs and symptoms.  What also came up aside from ads were a link to the NIH site for information about diabetes, a link to the American Diabetes Association and links about signs and symptoms.  If you scroll down, you get more of the same.

What didn’t appear were any resources, paid or otherwise, that link to information about clinical trials and diabetes.

Of course, a person interested in clinical trials would enter that in the search term.  But wouldn’t it also be logical for a play online blackjack for fun link to clinical trials would appear along with links to organizations, diets, treatments and supplies?  If a patient were interested in supplies, wouldn’t they also put that in the search term box?

So let’s take it to the next level and put in “diabetes clinical trials”.  This time you do get some paid ads regarding diabetes clinical trials, along with ads for cancer clinical trials.  You also get an ad for NIH clinical trials.  Other than ads, what you get are two links to trials information – one at ClinicalTrials.gov and one at the Mayo Clinic.  But above them are links to information about the subject of diabetes clinical trials (such as why you should participate in them).

There is no question that search engines are equipped to find clinical trials for a person determined to find them.  But it would also appear that clinical trials are not one of the subjects to appear when one is searching for information about a particular condition.  Yet if they did appear, it might cause some to inquire further once presented with the option.

This means two things.  One, linear search has its limits and eventually we may be better served by search that more comprehensively displays our options – not unlike the apparently now defunct Google Wheel which presented various directions for a search once the term was entered.

Second, whatever the type of search mechanism, as the results above clearly demonstrate, the search engine optimization of clinical trial materials is essential.

We may be a way off from having a different search option than the current linear search, but in any case, good search engine optimization and good search engine marketing might go a long way to expanding the pool of potential patients for future clinical trials.

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2 Responses to Clinical Trials and Search

  1. No question your points are well taken. One wonders if we will not soon be seeing “subsearch engines” with different and hopefully better algorithms behind the scenes to get the array of information that you write about in the general google (or bing) search. I could easily see such subsearch engines dedicated to specific topics which, after some trial and error (beta testing), would get people what they want quickly and with more focus. Of course, advertisers would love it as it targets their audience even more precisely than the current search engines.

  2. Your analysis is helpful and provocative and I agree with Barton’s comments, as well. However, until Google Wheel is re-invented to gain better acceptance or subsearch engines become intuitive….why not treat this the way every corporation, political cause and quack clinic is treating it?

    That is, search engine optimization is a game that can be played just as well by NIH, ACRO, the American Diabetes Association, the National Health Council, etc. Why curse the dark when matches are available? Let’s now wait for the flashlights. Steven Grossman (read my weekly analysis of FDA regulatory and policy issues at http://www.fdamatters.com)