A Real-Time Automated Patient Screening System for Clinical Trials Eligibility in an Emergency Department: Design and Evaluation

Yizhao Ni, Monica Bermudez, Stephanie Kennebeck, Stacey Liddy-Hicks, Judith Dexheimer

Background: One critical hurdle for clinical trial recruitment is the lack of an efficient method for identifying subjects who meet the eligibility criteria. Given the large volume of data documented in electronic health records (EHRs), it is labor-intensive for the staff to screen relevant information, particularly within the time frame needed. To facilitate subject identification, we developed a natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning–based system, Automated Clinical Trial Eligibility Screener (ACTES), which analyzes structured data and unstructured narratives automatically to determine patients’ suitability for clinical trial enrollment. In this study, we integrated the ACTES into clinical practice to support real-time patient screening.

Objective: This study aimed to evaluate ACTES’s impact on the institutional workflow, prospectively and comprehensively. We hypothesized that compared with the manual screening process, using EHR-based automated screening would improve efficiency of patient identification, streamline patient recruitment workflow, and increase enrollment in clinical trials.

Methods: The ACTES was fully integrated into the clinical research coordinators’ (CRC) workflow in the pediatric emergency department (ED) at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The system continuously analyzed EHR information for current ED patients and recommended potential candidates for clinical trials. Relevant patient eligibility information was presented in real time on a dashboard available to CRCs to facilitate their recruitment. To assess the system’s effectiveness, we performed a multidimensional, prospective evaluation for a 12-month period, including a time-and-motion study, quantitative assessments of enrollment, and postevaluation usability surveys collected from the CRCs.

Results: Compared with manual screening, the use of ACTES reduced the patient screening time by 34% (P<.001). The saved time was redirected to other activities such as study-related administrative tasks (P=.03) and work-related conversations (P=.006) that streamlined teamwork among the CRCs. The quantitative assessments showed that automated screening improved the numbers of subjects screened, approached, and enrolled by 14.7%, 11.1%, and 11.1%, respectively, suggesting the potential of ACTES in streamlining recruitment workflow. Finally, the ACTES achieved a system usability scale of 80.0 in the postevaluation surveys, suggesting that it was a good computerized solution.

Conclusions: By leveraging NLP and machine learning technologies, the ACTES demonstrated good capacity for improving efficiency of patient identification. The quantitative assessments demonstrated the potential of ACTES in streamlining recruitment workflow and improving patient enrollment. The postevaluation surveys suggested that the system was a good computerized solution with satisfactory usability.

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