By Will Wing, Director, Innovation and Feasibility at Clincierge
Healthcare and technology have always gone hand-in-hand. In fact, some of medicine’s earliest innovations are the most enduring. Invented in 1816, the stethoscope remains one of modern medicine’s most widely recognized symbols. First used in 1895, X-rays paved the way for electrocardiograms, CT scans, dialysis machines, and more.
For clinical trials, the convergence of healthcare and technology creates a constant stream of innovation in the pursuit of novel treatments and therapies. Likewise, the pandemic and subsequent growth of decentralized trials demonstrate how technology can play an essential role in the patient experience.
At the onset of COVID-19, clinical research organizations (CROs) and trial sponsors embraced quick digital transformations to ensure trials continued and patient care remained uninterrupted. A 2021 survey of clinical operations leaders at CROs, academic medical centers, trial sites, and other industry segments found 47% of study sites and 36% of sponsors increased technology investment to minimize disruptions due to COVID-19. Major investments focused on remote connectivity and access technology.
Companies that proactively ramped up their use of technology saw the most significant benefits. Today, the pharmaceutical industry is doubling down on innovation. Many organizations are devoting vast resources to technologies aimed at advancing their mission. Some are adding innovation to the c-suite, and some, like Clincierge, are building teams focused on innovation and feasibility.
From straightforward software applications managing data collection to complex systems integrating nearly all elements of a trial, technology has the potential to improve almost every aspect of clinical trials. CROs and trial sponsors are already using technology to address long-standing challenges like patient recruitment and retention and data security. Technology also enables the industry to adopt decentralized clinical trials and remote patient care.
Cloud-based systems and artificial intelligence are streamlining data collection and greatly reducing time spent on data analysis, resulting in shorter trials and benefitting both sponsors and patients. Similarly, wearable devices and telemedicine offer safe at-home solutions which reduce site visits, resulting in easier methods of recruiting and retaining trial participants.
While the focus tends to be on technologies to improve the clinical and research phases of trial design, innovations to ease the burdens of participation for patients and caregivers could be equally beneficial to trial outcomes. Just as sponsors use technology to find and recruit patients, patient service providers can integrate technology to improve patient experiences.
Technology developed with patients in mind is critical. Not only is every trial unique, but so is every patient. The most effective approaches to technology are at least flexible, if not customizable. They must account for elements such as location, the severity of patient health, patient comfort with technology, local regulations, and privacy. Successfully addressing patient needs with technology has the added benefit of freeing up trial staff, allowing them to focus more time on data collection and crucial trial endpoints.
While technology can improve trial efficiency and enable remote operations, it is important to note technology alone cannot replace the human element of patient care. Consider a hypothetical trial with 1,000 enrolled patients, each required to visit the trial site 12 times per year. That equates to 12,000 site visits over the course of just one study. At some point, patients will have questions or special requests that require human interaction.
Many CROs and trial sponsors look to patient support services providers to manage a wide array of logistics, such as reimbursements of out-of-pocket expenses, patient transport, housing, and translation services. Patient coordinators become trusted advocates, providing hands-on support to ease emotional and logistical burdens for trial patients and their caregivers.” Patient coordinators become trusted advocates, providing hands-on support to ease emotional and logistical burdens for trial patients and their caregivers. These relationships are especially essential in trials involving rare diseases or pediatric patients, which often require cross-border travel and complex medical accommodations.
Tech-enabled innovation streamlines business services and empowers clinical trial teams to focus on serving patients. For all of the benefits that technology provides, it is important to remember they can be quickly overshadowed when reliance on technology feels like more of a hindrance than a source of support. A human touch will always be essential, whether on an individual level or the ability to reach an experienced team when things go wrong.
As we continue developing and refining what it means to build patient-centricity into clinical trials, the overarching goal remains: selecting the most effective tools to improve the patient experience and deliver life-saving and life-enhancing products to market.