A privacy preserving protocol for tracking participants in phase I clinical trials

J Biomed Inform. 2015 Oct;57:145-62. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2015.06.019. Epub 2015 Jul 2.


Objective: Some phase 1 clinical trials offer strong financial incentives for healthy individuals to participate in their studies. There is evidence that some individuals enroll in multiple trials concurrently. This creates safety risks and introduces data quality problems into the trials. Our objective was to construct a privacy preserving protocol to track phase 1 participants to detect concurrent enrollment.

Design: A protocol using secure probabilistic querying against a database of trial participants that allows for screening during telephone interviews and on-site enrollment was developed. The match variables consisted of demographic information.

Measurement: The accuracy (sensitivity, precision, and negative predictive value) of the matching and its computational performance in seconds were measured under simulated environments. Accuracy was also compared to non-secure matching methods.

Results: The protocol performance scales linearly with the database size. At the largest database size of 20,000 participants, a query takes under 20s on a 64 cores machine. Sensitivity, precision, and negative predictive value of the queries were consistently at or above 0.9, and were very similar to non-secure versions of the protocol.

Conclusion: The protocol provides a reasonable solution to the concurrent enrollment problems in phase 1 clinical trials, and is able to ensure that personal information about participants is kept secure.

Keywords: Clinical trial; Phase 1 volunteer; Secure multi-party computation.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic*
  • Confidentiality*
  • Data Accuracy
  • Databases, Factual*
  • Humans
  • Statistics as Topic