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Clin Trials. 2012 Apr;9(2):198-203. doi: 10.1177/1740774511434844. Epub 2012 Feb 3.

Efficacy and cost-effectiveness of an automated screening algorithm in an inpatient clinical trial.

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Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center, Boston, MA 02114, USA.



Screening and recruitment for clinical trials can be costly and time-consuming. Inpatient trials present additional challenges because enrollment is time sensitive based on length of stay. We hypothesized that using an automated prescreening algorithm to identify eligible subjects would increase screening efficiency and enrollment and be cost-effective compared to manual review of a daily admission list.


Using a before-and-after design, we compared time spent screening, number of patients screened, enrollment rate, and cost-effectiveness of each screening method in an inpatient diabetes trial conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital. Manual chart review (CR) involved reviewing a daily list of admitted patients to identify eligible subjects. The automated prescreening (APS) method used an algorithm to generate a daily list of patients with glucose levels ≥ 180 mg/dL, an insulin order, and/or admission diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. The census generated was then manually screened to confirm eligibility and eliminate patients who met our exclusion criteria. We determined rates of screening and enrollment and cost-effectiveness of each method based on study sample size.


Total screening time (prescreening and screening) decreased from 4 to 2 h, allowing subjects to be approached earlier in the course of the hospital stay. The average number of patients prescreened per day increased from 13 ± 4 to 30 ± 16 (P < 0.0001). Rate of enrollment increased from 0.17 to 0.32 patients per screening day. Developing the computer algorithm added a fixed cost of US$3000 to the study. Based on our screening and enrollment rates, the algorithm was cost-neutral after enrolling 12 patients. Larger sample sizes further favored screening with an algorithm. By contrast, higher recruitment rates favored individual CR.


Because of the before-and-after design of this study, it is possible that unmeasured factors contributed to increased enrollment.


Using a computer algorithm to identify eligible patients for a clinical trial in the inpatient setting increased the number of patients screened and enrolled, decreased the time required to enroll them, and was less expensive. Upfront investment in developing a computerized algorithm to improve screening may be cost-effective even for relatively small trials, especially when the recruitment rate is expected to be low.

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