Technologists behind the ResearchMatch website have just launched a user-friendly search function to increase clinical trial recruitment nationwide.

That's the first goal of the website. Future improvements include a glossary function to help searchers become more familiar with medical terms, and eventually a feature that will disseminate trial results to volunteers.

The new features are part of what ResearchMatch architect Paul Harris, professor of biomedical informatics and the director of the Office of Research Informatics at Vanderbilt University, which hosts the platform, says are steps toward making it a nationwide go-to resource for those interested in participating in – or benefiting from – clinical research.

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"ResearchMatch doesn't necessarily need to be all things to all people, but we can be a connector to all people if we are smart about it," Harris said.

The new search function, called Trial Finder, offers two ways into the ResearchMatch site; users may first register as potential volunteers, or simply search out trials relevant to them housed in the database. The search function in ResearchMatch features user-friendly drag-and-drop boxes in which users can supply age, gender, location by ZIP Code, the medical condition they are interested in, and how far they are willing to travel. There is also no obligation to sign up; interested users can simply find out where trials that interest them are ongoing.

Harris says the platform's developers are currently analyzing log data to detect usage trends to fine-tune the new features; he is also optimistic that there will be some sort of working glossary function within the next two to three months, but Harris has even bigger plans for the NIH-funded platform, which launched its first volunteer registry tools in 2009 and currently has 75,000 registered volunteers.

"Currently, we are going about trying to systematically capture the publications where ResearchMatch has been a contributing source," Harris said. "For example, if a study has gone forward and ResearchMatch has been known to be used for recruitment of any kind, we are systematically trying to capture that from the institutions and at least get the manuscripts. What we do with those manuscripts could take any number of  forms, but at the very least we should be putting those manuscripts and references in our newsletters, on the public page, and then if a user does have the proficiency in reading the medical literature, fantastic."

Longer-term, Harris said he can envision a multi-media platform with synchronized feedback from the research and patient advocacy communities; a possible feature of that platform might be webinar calls where researchers will be able to explain in lay language what their trials mean for people affected by or interested in a particular condition.

"That will take a little more time, but I think it's the right model," Harris said.

Initially, Harris and his development team tried to create a site that was as brand-neutral as possible, but communications experts from partner institutions asked them to provide a co-branding function. Examples include the University of Kentucky's ResearchMatch splash page as well as the splash pages for advocacy groups such as the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

"The co-branding provides a really nice calling card to the advocacy groups," Harris said. "It gives them something to provide their stakeholders – we're not competitive with them, we're not trying to do what they do."

Community health systems, not known for research, may also benefit should more traffic come to ResearchMatch through the new features, Harris said. The new functionality, which promotes any trial in, is probably the first step in reaching out to those systems.

"Collaboration is always about the win-win, and usually to win someone over you have to first show them or tell them or actually go ahead and start work where they win," Harris said.  "I think with this new work we are sort of laying the groundwork for how we're pushing people to those sites. We'll have to see how we maybe capitalize on that."

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