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The Importance of Decentralized Tech in a Pandemic

No other global challenge has energized the healthcare technology industry as much as the COVID-19 pandemic. From the swift sequencing of the novel coronavirus genome to the rapid development and testing of a potentially viable vaccine, technology’s role during this pandemic has been unmatched in history. 

However, with the size, importance, and level of sophistication of the current data being collected during the pandemic, some experts also see the need for that data to be decentralized so that no one company or government has access to it. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI), research and development, and technology deployment are increasingly being led by a small group of large tech companies and governments. As consumers move more of their lives online, a mere handful of these large tech companies collect large amounts of that data. An August 2020 survey by Deloitte indicates that consumers have increased their willingness to share health data. For example, 71% of consumers said they would share personal health data with a health insurer, up from 65% before the pandemic. However, extenuating circumstances during the pandemic does not have to come at the cost of privacy in healthcare.

Calls to decentralize AI — and to increase collaboration and integration — have grown louder, especially since COVID-19 began spreading across the globe in early 2020. Technologies like edge AI, or the intelligent edge, and Federated Learning are growing in popularity due to its ability to keep a person’s data locally on their device, ensuring privacy and greater control. Gartner recently released their strategic technology trends for 2021 report, which cites the growing need for privacy-enhancing computation which allows organizations to, “to collaborate on research securely across regions and with competitors without sacrificing confidentiality. This approach is designed specifically for the increasing need to share data while maintaining privacy or security.” This applies across all sectors, including healthcare. 

Clinical Trial Design and COVID-19

Clinical trials, an integral component of advancing healthcare delivery, are increasingly become decentralized through a variety of technologies (eg: edge, A.I., smartphone sensors). New programs demonstrate how quickly the clinical trial industry is adapting. For example, Moderna is working to decentralize portions of its COVID vaccine trial decreasing the need for office visits.

In addition to the speed of their design and implementation, clinical trials have different ways of screening participants, providing experimental treatments and collecting data, partly due to COVID-19 precautions but also because of the new technologies being used. Instead of a trial being confined to one location in the United States, studies are being conducted simultaneously in various sites across the country while keeping patient data safe and secure. 

What healthcare giants say about Decentralized Clinical Trials

An effort to create new industry standards for clinical trials is currently underway, led by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Standards Association (IEEE SA), the world’s largest technological association. By looking at new ways to develop trial design, recruit patients, deliver investigational therapies and collect and store data through the lens of a decentralized network, the IEEE SA hopes to usher in a new era in clinical trials — one that is currently being driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Walter De Brouwer, Chief Scientific Officer at doc.ai and co-chair of IEEE SA, developed doc.ai as a decentralized AI platform to empower people to own and control their own medical data. In the time of COVID-19, when clinical research is in desperate need of clinical trial participants and their health data, individuals who can and will partner with the medical and research community to help progress medical science may be the answer to the current pandemic.

Learn what the giants in healthcare have to say about tech and data harmonization for Decentralized Clinical Trials in an IEEE webinar. Simply register to watch, it’s available now.

Also, learn more about how easy and efficient our AI-driven research platform is to conduct siteless, real-world research in real-time. Supercharge your research.

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