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March 10, 2003 | While some e-recruiters are compiling their own databases of patients, others are mining existing databases. One example: Acurian Inc., a clinical trials recruitment company in Horsham, Penn. Acurian mines pharmacy claims data from Merck-Medco Managed Care, the nation's leading pharmacy benefits manager.

Merck-Medco processes prescription claims for 65 million Americans. So for each study protocol, Acurian creates a database search and runs it against the Merck-Medco database. This generates a list of potential participants who meet the study's age and gender requirements, have already been screened for inclusions and exclusions pertaining to prescriptions, and are in the same geographic area as the study site.

Acurian then provides the doctors conducting the study with a list of their own patients who fit the study protocol. The service, called AcuChart, spares researchers from reviewing thousands of paper medical files by hand.

Companies such as Acurian and The Medstat Group also use a technique called site profiling. They determine the regions of the country with the highest incidence of a particular disease, down to the ZIP code. The recruitment companies then use the information for geographically targeted patient recruitment campaigns. The company says clinical trials get off the ground sooner than with traditional recruitment techniques.

Because Acurian provides medical information about patients to only their own doctors (who, after all, already have the same information in their charts), the company says its service fully complies with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Some data-mining techniques, though, may have to be abandoned in April, the deadline for full compliance with HIPAA. "It'll be one thing for people to voluntarily give you information," says Diana Anderson, president and CEO of the Dallas-based recruitment company D. Anderson and Co. "It'll be another thing to do mining of databases." — D.S.

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