Discovery: Research and Analysis

I. Brainstorming

I formulated a design brief that focused on my experiences in the clinical research industry, which I have been involved with for 5 years. A clinical trial starts off with a setting up a research site, which includes hospital, medical centres, dedicated research centres, etc. A research doctor, known as a Clinical Investigator or simply Investigator, will spearhead therapeutic area researches.

Clinical research professionals (CRPs) tend to quickly multi-task a number of things.  The tasks they focus in include rationalising an Investigator list derived from a complex series of spreadsheets and data management systems, preparing ethics/regulatory submissions, monitoring and auditing tasks, data entry and the list goes on. However, it really is crucial to pre-identify a good Investigator from the start to avoid a number of quality assurance (QA) findings.

Investigators with no critical QA findings and have a known track record of publications and clinical trial experiences are highly preferable to be nominated during the feasibility stage of setting up a clinical trial. However, it takes an enormous amount of time to search and rationalise these Investigators.

A number of biopharmaceutical services companies are now embracing mobile means to retrieve information, and there are a number of design options that can be explored. I have then thought of designing an iPhone app catered to CRPs or any related biopharma-related personnel who would like to easily and quickly retrieve information relating to Investigators and researches conducted by these specialists without having to navigate through a number of database systems. Initially, I have nominated an iPhone application in that it seems to be the  of choice in the industry.  However, CRPs tend to prefer viewing data on a wider screen and I am hypothesising that an iPad application would be better suited.

II. User Research

Our class in GA were tasked to formulate a survey in order to identify desired and perceived services for our nominated project. Whilst this user research method is generally beneficial, I hypothesised that this method would not be of much use to what I want to my proposed iPad app in that it caters for a small niche group, which would be CRPs or biopharma-based professionals

As an alternative, I have used two (2) user research methods, namely:

  • Ethnographical observation
  • Contextual enquiry

II.A. Ethnographical observation 

I conducted a rapid form ethnographical observation (shadowing) with three (3) of my work colleagues/managers from different functional units in order to find out how they would search for Investigators using standard spreadsheets and data management systems.   My findings include the following:

Participant Occupation Findings
1 Manager, Clinical Start-up(Female / Age 35-40)
  • Finds navigating Investigator information time consuming
  • Thinks that “there should be a better way” in retrieving Investigator data
2 Clinical Feasibility Specialist(Female / Age 30-34)
  • Is frustrated with having to rationalise an Investigator list from >3 sources
  • Is hoping to have a “one-stop shop” kind of system where you can retrieve quality data
3 Clinical Feasibility Specialist(Female / Age 30-34)
  • Is comfortable with the old way of navigating through all the de facto databases
  • Thinks that the system is already near perfect

II.B. Contextual Enquiry

I have also performed a short series of guerilla-type contextual enquiry with 5 people from my current workplace and former colleagues who works for a different company by using unstructured questions. The table below shows the findings I have accumulated in the process:

Participant Occupation Findings
1 Clinical Feasibility Specialist(Female / Age 30-34)
  • Thinks that it would be “coo”l to have an iPhone/iPad app that have simple ways to navigate quality Investigators and research sites.
2 Clinical Feasibility Specialist(Female / Age 30-34)
  • Thinks that there is no need for a mobile app in searching for Investigators in that she thinks a desktop search is already robust.
3 Clinical Research Associate(Female / Age 25-29)
  • Since she’s constantly travelling to research sites, the extra time would beneficial for her to have quick access to know more about an Investigator before site visit.
4 Senior Clinical Research Associate(Female / Age 30-34)
  • Thinks that a mobile app would be nice so that she can find additional information of a specified Investigator whilst travelling to meet that particular Investigator.
5 Regulatory & Start-up Specialist(Male / Age 25-29)
  • Thinks that an iPad/iPhone app would be novel and fun but is unsure if there’s a benefit for him in that he is office-based.

III. Competitor Analysis

To add more value to my user research from a commercial standpoint, I have also conducted a brief competitor analysis. The rationale behind this analysis is to support my understanding if my proposed iPad app concept is feasible to be delivered within the biopharma industry.

Surprisingly, there were a few search websites/mobile apps regarding clinical trial Investigators and Research Sites that would potentially compete with my design concept. The table below will show my finding of the 2 main competitors of my proposed iPhone app.

Number Competitor Findings
1 BioPharm InsightBiopharma
  • Mobile only with iPod/iPhone and iPad
  • Need to register (with fee)
  • Information architecture does not necessarily follow a pattern
2 Connect ClinicalConnect Clinical
  • No mobile app
  • There is a lite version where a user can still browse through basic information (i.e. Investigators in a specified therapeutic area research)
  • Information flow is much easier to follow

IV. Persona Development

The interviews and observations I accumulated from my user research methodologies, alongside the competitor analysis, were beneficial.  It helped by giving me a concrete idea of my target users regarding the design of the project.  In my findings, I have noticed there was an increasing demand of CRPs who would like to access information regarding Research Investigator and Sites easily whilst on the go. CRPs tend to travel to sites an average of 80% as part of their work. A mobile app would certainly be beneficial for travelling CRPs. There are also in-house CRPs and whilst they do not necessarily require a mobile app in that most of their time would be spent in the office, scrolling a user friendly mobile app would equip them with an alternative way of finding quick information rather than having to navigate data through a series of databases. Based on these findings, I have formulated a persona representing my target user for the proposed iPad app.


Jane Currie, PhD (Senior Clinical Research Associate)

Simple yet interactive information on screen would put a big smile in my face

30 years old, Female, Married, No Children, 90-100K Salary

Lives in the Lower North Shore of Sydney

Jane travels to her office in North Ryde by train an average of 1-2 times a week.  However, she is hardly in the office and travels to research sites (e.g. hospitals, medical centres, and GP sites) most of the time by car and/or plane if she would visit an interstate or New Zealand site in order to do monitoring/inspecting duties.  Even when she is in the grocery buying food with her husband , Jane would briefly take out her Blackberry to quickly glance critical emails regarding a study she has been allocated to monitor.

As part of her role, Jane also conducts selection visits of hospitals that can perform trials.  This entails meeting with a hospital’s nominated research doctor, known as an Investigator, in order to discuss a clinical trial that will be set-up.  When visiting a hospital for a selection visit, Jane tends to wait for the Investigator for approximately 10-15 mins most of the time.  During this period, she tends to glance at her email if her work colleagues would have provided information to her regarding an Investigator’s past performance.  The problem is, more than often, she would not receive an email and would end up calling a colleague who in turn would give superficial information over the phone due to time restraints.

Jane is an avid mobile phone and tablet user and loves new technology, such as her iPad.  She believes in digital innovation and wishes that there would be a mobile app that would be simple and interactive to quickly retrieve information of the research doctor she will visit before the actual meeting.


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