In the days of paper case report forms (CRFs), the accurate recording and review of subject data entered into the CRF and diaries was based entirely on trust. The investigator would sign the final page of the CRF to confirm that he or she had reviewed all data contained therein and that it represented a true and accurate record of the state of the subject during the trial. The time and date of the signature could not, of course, be verified. If a dose escalation or change in procedure was expected—as a result of certain parameters or subject-reported outcomes—there was no way of knowing whether such a review had occurred. Neither was it possible to relate the review and signature(s) to the timing of these assessments or the subject reporting the outcome. The advent of electronic data capture of both the assessments made at site visits, and subject reports between visits, has opened the door to checking the compliance of both the subject and investigator, as all such records now contain a data and time stamp.

This raises the question as to whether we should now be ’policing’ the site investigator just because we can now monitor activity electronically, or whether we should continue to trust that the medical professionals engaged in trials are working according to protocol?

When approaching database lock for a study where data has been captured electronically, data managers check that all investigator signatures have been captured within the electronic CRF (eCRF). Just as with a paper CRF, this signifies that the data recorded for each subject at their site is complete and accurate, and they have reviewed it. Database closure is a busy period and a great deal of effort is spent chasing recalcitrant sites to capture the investigator’s electronic signature. As most data in an eCRF is typically entered by other study site staff, this may be the only form an investigator is obliged to complete. To truly confirm that the data entered into an eCRF is a ‘true and accurate’ representation of the subject’s progress within the study, the investigator would be required to open each eCRF page (an extremely time-consuming procedure) or, at a minimum, spend some time reviewing associated subject profile style summary reports. The frequent requests received for password resets around lock time suggest that this is unlikely to be the case.

Recent inspections of electronically captured data have begun to probe this area with questions such as, ”Can you confirm that the investigator reviewed this particular subject’s electronic diary at the required intervals during the study?” While this is possible by viewing the audit trail on most systems, it then raises the question “Who checks that the investigator logs into the system during the trial to perform these reviews?”

Questions about whether the electronic vendor—whether via eCRF or electronic patient reported outcome (ePRO) system—can demonstrate conclusively that the investigator has been actively reviewing the electronic data for any length of time creates a dilemma for both the vendor and the company responsible for monitoring and managing the clinical data. A fully compliant system will capture, within its audit trail, a record of the date and time each user was working in the system and for how long.

Should sponsors be monitoring the activity of the sites through the creation and review of standard reports showing how much time an investigator spends reviewing the data prior to adding an electronic signature? Does the accountability for this lie with the sponsor or the system vendor? Will these changes result in increased quality or simply alienate the study site staff?

If sponsors decide that this level of verification is necessary for their trial, then they must tell clinical trial investigators beforehand what will be expected of them. System vendors must also make electronic data review easier by enabling assessments to be pooled across visits to show trends and outliers, perhaps in a similar format to a traditional laboratory report.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released a draft guidance entitled “Guidance for Industry – Electronic Source Documentation in Clinical Investigations.” This document states:

“Investigators should review completed portions of the eCRF for each subject before the data are archived and released to the [third] parties. The investigator should indicate that he/she has reviewed the submitted data. For example, an investigator might initiate an electronic command to enable transmission of data to [third] parties, or append a data element identifier (with the date, time, and originator’s name), indicating that the investigator has reviewed the data element. This command or appendage would be applied to all the data elements belonging to the portion of an eCRF reviewed by the investigator.”1

If this draft guidance becomes official, it will help strengthen the process, but still there is work to be done. In 2006, CDISC published a set of 12 user requirements for source data entitled “CDISC Standards and electronic Source Data Within Clinical Trials 20 November 2006.” The requirements apply to all source data “irrespective of the media or technology used to hold the data,”2 which is another step closer to where the industry needs to be.

If the Golden Rule of quality assurance is going to be changed from “if it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen” to ”if no one reviewed the audit trail of an electronic data capture(EDC)/ePRO system, then it didn’t happen” guidance is needed from the regulatory bodies as to their expectations and assignment of responsibility. The overall responsibility of the trial lies with the sponsor; the question then becomes, do they rely on the vendor for the EDC system to monitor the investigators reviews of data, or does this responsibility lay with the data manangement function?

1. Guidance for Industry – Electronic Source Documentation in Clinical Investigations. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Available from Accessed on February 25, 2013.

2. Reflection paper on expectations for electronic source data and data transcribed to electronic data collection tools in clinical trials. PHT Corp. Available from Accessed on February 25, 2013.