2 posts tagged “ALS study”

The “Immense Benefits” of Online Health Reporting: An Interview with ALS Study Author Dr. Thomas Meyer

Posted April 27th, 2012 by

Earlier this month, we told you about a new study showing that ALS patients reporting their health status over the Internet (using a rating scale known as the ALSFRS-R) is just as reliable as a trained nurse rating the patient’s score.   Now, we’d like to share our interview with lead study author Dr. Thomas Meyer, a neurologist at Charité University Hospital in Berlin, Germany.  What role did PatientsLikeMe play in this research?  And what are the study’s implications for the future of clinical trials?  Find out that and more in our interview with Dr. Meyer below.

Dr. Thomas Meyer, Neurologist at Charite University Hospital in Berlin

1.  When did you become interested in patient-reported outcomes?

In 2005, we first used tablet PCs in our outpatient department to capture patient-reported outcomes (PROs). To us neurologists, PROs play a crucial role. Many neurological conditions can be captured by means of PROs only – I am thinking of pain in neuropathies, spasticity in multiple sclerosis (MS), the subjective perception of movement ability in Parkinson’s syndrome and dyspnoea (breathing difficulty) in neuromuscular conditions, including ALS. Given this fact, we neurologists have always listened to our patients a little more carefully so that we can do a good job. Therefore, the systematic capturing of PROs is a natural process to us, and we are most happy to be able to support any advancement and positive development thereof.

2.  Your study showed remarkable agreement between the two ALSFRS-R reporting methods.  Were you surprised that they were so similar?

You are absolutely correct. Correlation here looks like a textbook example of medical statistics. We were indeed very surprised to find that the data were so unequivocal.  Notwithstanding, our previous experience with the offline electronic capturing of ALSFRS-R had taught us that the data captured in a personal interview are very close to those captured in computer-based self-assessments.

A Chart Showing the Striking Similarity Between ALSFRS-R Scores as Reported by ALS Patients (Bottom Axis) and Their Clinicians (Left Axis)

Then we took the next step and progressed from offline to online assessment. Other work groups had already shown good correlation between the face-to-face capturing of the score on the one hand, and data capturing over the phone on the other. That was very useful upfront information for us. Insofar, the success of our study didn’t come as a complete surprise to us.

3.  How did Dr. Paul Wicks, PatientsLikeMe’s Director of Research & Development, contribute to this research project?

Our great interest in the issue of PROs in ALS goes back a long time. Nevertheless, we were very much aware of the fact that PatientsLikeMe is by far the most experienced organization with regard to PROs worldwide and also the one that identifies with this topic most. So, a small group of four of us flew from Berlin to Boston to introduce our clinical trial to PatientsLikeMe and to learn from their experience. Once we had concluded the study, we flew to Boston once again to see Paul and to prepare the paper. We profited immensely from Paul’s input, and he gave the manuscript a superordinate perspective.

PatientsLikeMe Research & Development Director Paul Wicks, PhD

So it is for a good reason that he is listed as co-author of this publication. Overall, this scientific research project was a collaboration between the Charité University Hospital and PatientsLikeMe. I believe it is also an important, gratifying and affirming experience for PatientsLikeMe to see that in terms of methodology the online capturing of PROs is at least equal to an interview conducted face-to-face. I can even imagine situations where the online mode of capturing PROs is actually better than a personal interview, especially where rather complicated and very private issues are addressed. This is just one of the many points we discussed vividly with Paul.

4.  Do you believe online patient reporting will become an acceptable practice for clinical trials?  What are the ramifications if it does?

I can very well imagine that the online capturing of PROs will one day become an integral part of clinical trials. It is quite an obvious thing; however, owing to regulatory requirements, it will be quite some time before it will actually be possible to implement this. The bottom line is that clinical trials will have to be conducted for each score demonstrating equivalence between paper-based and web-based capturing. Not all of the scores have actually been evaluated for online capturing. Another critical point surely is Internet access.

Having said that, it certainly also depends on the patient group and the actual medical condition under examination. I suppose that from a medical-ethical point of view it is problematic to exclude patients from a trial simply because they are unable to realize an online completion of the score. In this regard, I believe the first step to be taken must be to demonstrate equivalence between online and offline capturing of the score. Then one could give patients the option of using online assessment in the context of participating in a clinical trial and see what they would prefer to do.

The benefits would be immense. This method could highly enhance the quality of the data, the efficiency of data capturing and, not least of all, it would help reduce the costs of a clinical trial. I believe that online assessment will be a matter of course in the future, but not immediately.


ALS Patients Reporting Their Health Status over the Internet Just as Reliable as a Clinician in a Hospital

Posted April 9th, 2012 by

At PatientsLikeMe we’ve been collecting self-reported data about patients with ALS (PALS) since 2006 – over 5,000 PALS to be exact! ALS is a disease that causes muscle wasting in the arms, legs, head and chest, which leads to problems walking, eating, and even communicating. However, unlike a disease like diabetes where there’s a blood test to tell you exactly how patients are doing, the main outcome measure used to record how PALS are doing is an instrument called the ALS Functional Rating Scale – Revised (ALSFRS-R).

A Section of the ALSFRS-R Questionnaire Pertaining to Speech Impairment

It’s a short, 12-item questionnaire that is the “gold standard” tool for clinical trials, but it has one important caveat: it’s normally only completed by clinicians (doctors, nurses, research assistants, etc.). When PALS take part in clinical research studies the questions are read out loud to them and patients are not normally allowed to see their ALSFRS-R scores. When we launched PatientsLikeMe, the concept that we would give patients their very own copy of the ALSFRS-R scale and let PALS see their scores was controversial, and although we’ve gone on to publish a number of studies using the ALSFRS-R and even expanded it for highly impaired patients, the question has always remained: is a patient’s self report of their own ALSFRS-R scores “valid”? In other words, if a patient scored her walking as “3 out of 4” on the scale, would her clinician rate it the same?

Fortunately, our research partners at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, Germany, wanted to know the answer to this too! They’ve been piloting an exciting new project to encourage patients to share progress reports on their ALS with their doctors electronically, using the Internet and other tools including the ALSFRS-R. To support this, they conducted a study where 127 ALS patients were invited to rate their severity of illness over the web, and then were invited to clinic to have their ALSFRS-R score rated in the traditional way by a trained nurse.

A Chart of the Remarkable Similarity Between ALSFRS-R Scores as Reported by ALS Patients (Bottom Axis) and Their Clinicians (Left Axis)

As the chart above shows, the results were unequivocal: “Agreement between both data-capture methods was very high…there was no systematic directional bias to any differences…more than 95% of all pairs of measurement were within the limits of agreement.” Even better, 95% of patients found there was no significant time burden, nor physical or emotional strain from completing such reports over time.

So far this all might seem rather academic, so why is this important? As the authors go on to say, “Completing patient-reported outcomes online could be a way to complement face-to-face visits and manage care in a more personalized and needs-based way, rather than relying upon regular time-intervals such as three- or six-month follow-up appointments. Online patient-reported outcomes could also be used to improve the convenience and thereby participation in clinical trials that use the ALSFRS-R as an endpoint.”

The published study is now available open-access and so is free for all to read in its entirety. We’ll also have an interview with lead study author Dr. Thomas Meyer soon, so stay tuned.

PatientsLikeMe member pwicks