Use of Patient-Centric Technology in Clinical Trials

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Doctor with stethoscope and tablet computer on black background, still life style, Technology digital to treat patients concept.

By Inga Shugalo

Patient centricity has gradually entered the traditional healthcare domain and become one of its staples. Now it’s present not only in the clinical setting but also in pharmaceutical development—one of the most conservative medical fields. Just like in a clinical setting, study participants become researchers’ partners offering their unique experiences to serve the common benefit. This approach yields good results: according to the study by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Parexel, drugs tested in patient-centered trials are 90% more likely to be launched. But how to organize such trials?

Patient-friendly study design

In clinical studies, patient centricity is all about meeting participants’ needs. Sounds familiar? Well, just like in the clinical environment. But what are these needs in clinical studies? 

Traditionally, patients were mere subjects with not many opportunities to voice their concerns and be heard. But now, as patients grow more and more educated regarding their conditions, they get far more proactive, which gives trial participants a new value. According to the FDA guidelines for patient-centered trials, patients should be treated as experts in living with their conditions, which gives researches a unique therapeutic context. 

To make the most of it, researchers should create a trial environment that fits patients best to prevent trial participants’ churn. In some cases when clinical trial subjects see no improvements or even deterioration, dropping out is the only solution. In other cases, dropouts are preventable. For example, through virtual or hybrid trials, to spare their participants the necessity to spend time and money on travelling. 

With virtual trials, the whole process moves to a digital environment. Patients no longer need to travel to trial sites; all the needed data is collected via remote patient monitoring devices and sent to clinical trial management software. This system is made efficient through automation, from patient recruitment to analytics. 

Though this approach to study design solves an important problem, it brings up another one—patients might feel abandoned and isolated. Besides, siteless trials put a lot of responsibility on patients’ shoulders—it’s them who should monitor their device and report on malfunctions if any. Likewise, it’s patients who should take their medicines as prescribed and care about the correctness of the input data to prevent erroneous conclusions. For some participants, it may be overwhelming. 

Luckily, there’s another solution—hybrid trials. This trial model reduces site visits to a reasonable minimum. This helps develop and maintain good rapport with the participants, which often contributes to their adherence and positive experience. What’s more, it’s possible to go the extra mile and divide patient populations into several groups, with some attending the facilities regularly and some staying at home. 

So you’ve designed a trial with regard to potential participants’ preferences. What’s next? Now you need to win your participants over.

Winning your patients

In our digital era, traditional marketing strategies (leaflets, print adverts, etc.) are no longer efficient. It’s way better to use digital channels—emails, community websites, and even social media. The latter is underused but their popularity with clinical researchers is on a slow but steady rise. Social media recruitment is proven to work better than emails. In one gynecological trial, 8.3% of participants were enrolled with Facebook ads, and only 0.1% of patients with an email campaign. What’s more, Facebook ads seem to be more cost-efficient, too: $15K vs. $98K respectively. 

Once ads launched, you have to keep track of trial leads and send feedback to make sure potential participants stay motivated. Experts recommend to reply in one minute after lead discovery, and this is where a recruiting chatbot may help. 

A chatbot may also assign potential participants for a screening visit. It usually takes place in some days after the initial contact but not later than a week. A day before the screening, you may call the participant to confirm the appointment and start working on the rapport. It’s better to keep the phone call short, without overloading it with discussing informed consent and other hard-to-process matters pertinent to the upcoming trial. These will be considered in detail after the screening, with researchers available at hand and ready to clarify all of the participant’s questions.

How to choose the advertising channels? It all boils down to demographics and the specifics of the research planned (patient centricity again). For example, Facebook ads work well for promoting some cardiovascular disease drug trial: US baby boomers have taken to Facebook quite well. Likewise, Gen X widely uses Instagram, so it’s possible to use the platform to advertise the studies of the impact of vitamin and mineral consumption on the health of young adults, for example. 

Points to consider

It’s important to remember that you can’t publish the same advertisement on all chosen websites and platforms. Each media resource has its own good practices and guidelines. What’s more, however efficient social media advertising may be, putting all eggs in one basket is not a reasonable solution. 

To have a better audience coverage, you should go for diverse sources—several social media, trial search websites, virtual community hubs, and even traditional newspapers and magazines. You may even reach out to clinicians as many patients still prefer learning about clinical trials from their doctors. 

Testing it out

As we can see, patient centricity is present in all preparatory stages, from study design to attracting participants. Beyond these stages, patient centricity should prevail just as well. Though the task is not easy, the potential result is inspiring: patient centricity may pave the way to personalized clinical trials, which can reduce side effects and improve health outcomes for each patient.

Inga Shugalo is a Healthcare Industry Analyst at Itransition, a custom software development company headquartered in Denver, Colorado

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