Appl Clin Inform 2016; 07(02): 477-488
DOI: 10.4338/ACI-2015-12-RA-0178
Research Article
Schattauer GmbH

Visual assessment of the similarity between a patient and trial population

Is This Clinical Trial Applicable to My Patient?
Amos Cahan
1  IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, NY
2  National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; Informatics Institute
James J Cimino
3  University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL
4  National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, Bethesda, MD
› Author Affiliations
This project was supported in part by an appointment to the Research Participation Program for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Environmental Health, Division of Laboratory Sciences, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through an agreement between the Department of Energy and DLS. Dr. Cimino was supported in part by research funds from the National Library of Medicine and the NIH Clinical Center.
Further Information

Publication History

received: 15 December 2015

accepted: 23 March 2016

Publication Date:
16 December 2017 (online)



A critical consideration when applying the results of a clinical trial to a particular patient is the degree of similarity of the patient to the trial population. However, similarity assessment rarely is practical in the clinical setting. Here, we explore means to support similarity assessment by clinicians.


A scale chart was developed to represent the distribution of reported clinical and demographic characteristics of clinical trial participant populations. Constructed for an individual patient, the scale chart shows the patient’s similarity to the study populations in a graphical manner. A pilot test case was conducted using case vignettes assessed by clinicians. Two pairs of clinical trials were used, each addressing a similar clinical question. Scale charts were manually constructed for each simulated patient. Clinicians were asked to estimate the degree of similarity of each patient to the populations of a pair of trials. Assessors relied on either the scale chart, a summary table (aligning characteristics of 2 trial populations), or original trial reports. Assessment time and between-assessor agreement were compared. Population characteristics considered important by assessors were recorded.


Six assessors evaluated 6 cases each. Using a visual scale chart, agreement between physicians was higher and the time required for similarity assessment was comparable


We suggest that further research is warranted to explore visual tools facilitating the choice of the most applicable clinical trial to a specific patient. Automating patient and trial population characteristics extraction is key to support this effort.