TrialX: Unlocking Clinical Trials with Twilio API

For patients coming to terms with a new diagnosis or a reoccurrence of their disease, clinical trials represent a rare form of hope. For doctors, clinical trials are a critical stop on the road to a cure.

But for years, matching patients with clinical trials of new treatments currently under investigation has been an exercise in futility. Trial investigators usually have to rely on file cabinets full of paper records to find suitable patients and few tools, if any, exist to make it easier for patients to find clinical trials near them.

Consequently, four out of five clinical trials are delayed and 50% of the delays are due to participant recruitment challenges. Accrual within clinical trials continues to be a major bottleneck in scientific progress. In the domain of oncology, for example, fewer than 3% of potentially eligible patients enroll in clinical trials. More than 75% of participants are not even aware trials exist, even though surveys have shown that a majority of people would be open to participating in these studies if they knew about them.

Chintan Patel and Sharib Khan knew there had to be a more efficient way to connect patients and clinical trials. They founded TrialX in 2008, after Patel created a prototype at a Google hackathon.

“A product manager for Google suggested we develop the prototype as an
application for the Google Health platform,” Khan said. Microsoft then reached out and asked the team to build a similar application for its HealthVault personal health record platform. Within a few years, TrialX had signed up clients like the Cleveland Clinic, Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the New York-Presbyterian Hospital and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

By 2011, TrialX had connected thousands of patients with clinical trials, but the
team strove to do better. “We wanted to facilitate a connection that was immediate and effortless,” Patel said. In addition to connecting patients and clinics via email, Patel wanted to add click-to-call functionality to Ask Dory, the company’s redesigned clinical trials search application that makes it even easier for patients to find trials near them.

Patel chose to use the Twilio API based on the recommendation of other developers. A TrialX developer named Aamir Hussain added the click-to-call capabilities in just a few hours. “Integrating Twilio with Ask Dory was super quick,” Patel said. “We absolutely love the simplicity of the Twilio technology.”

In addition to Twilio’s reliability, flexibility and ease of use, Patel said he appreciates the platform’s reporting capabilities. “Since Twilio provides full logs of the call outcome, its length and even its recording, we can make summary reports with details on the number of people being connected to the trial doctors, which is immensely valuable in assessing the impact of the tool.”

Patel and Hussain created Ask Dory in response to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services “Using Public Data for Cancer Prevention and Control” developer challenge organized by the National Cancer Institute. The Twilio integration was a key factor in the app being judged the winner in this U.S. government-sponsored “innovation challenge.”

The team has continued to create value using Twilio. For example, in order to make it easier to communicate with team members in India, Hussain wrote a conference call app that automatically dials everyone who needs to attend a particular meeting.

In addition, in response to customer feedback, the team built an app named Call-E that makes it very easy for a doctor’s office to send proactive notifications via voice or SMS to remind a patient about an upcoming appointment or preventative screening. “Previously, doctor’s offices or hospitals had to rely on manual calling or expensive automated call systems,” Patel said.

“We believe Twilio will disrupt communications models in healthcare,” Patel said, noting that Twilio-powered apps are increasing efficiency not only for TrialX customers but also for the company itself.