Using Technology For Successful Clinical Trial Recruitment

July 31, 2019 Jeff Kozloff

When the word “technology” is used in conjunction with clinical trials, many people think of how technological advancements have impacted the actual studies themselves. Wearablesmobile monitoring and the gamification of medicine are just three areas gaining traction.

But let’s go back to basics. Clinical trials require participants, and recruitment is one area where study sponsors can use technology to their advantage.

Unfortunately, as the CEO of a company that offers clinical trial disclosure software, I've seen that three primary barriers still stand in the way of study participation. It’s a clinical trial trifecta:

• Awareness

• Access

• Eligibility

Just as the search for the perfect mate has evolved from the traditional matchmaker to today’s online dating sites and apps, the search for a clinical trial match has led patients and caregivers to the internet. However, this medium is designed to be an interactive experience, not a source of one-way communication. Today’s internet is all about connectivity, and in the world of clinical trials, everyone involved in the process can be connected and vetted via available technology.

The following are a few examples of how clinical trial sponsors -- and, with a few tweaks here and there, any healthcare professional -- can use technology to boost public knowledge and accessibility.

Awareness

Gone are the days when patients would pick up the phone to ask their family physician about health symptoms. Instead, many now pick up their laptop or mobile phone to search the web for instant answers. In fact, in 2013, NBC reported that 80% of internet users, or about 93 million Americans, had searched for a health-related topic online, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

So it stands to reason that those searching for clinical trial information will also gravitate toward online sources. However, trying to find a relevant clinical trial online can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Simple tech tweaks such as search engine optimization and a robust on-site search engine can act like a magnet for that elusive needle. (While my company's platform enables SEO and social sharing, sponsors can also make these changes independently.) In my experience, many patients still can’t find relevant clinical trials -- and many are simply in the dark about the clinical trial process itself.

Access

Lack of awareness and lack of access can go hand-in-hand with a lack of understanding. This is why I believe health literacy -- the practice of presenting complicated health information in a manner that’s easily understood -- is so important for clinical trials.

Minorities are often underrepresented in clinical trials. Lack of diversity in clinical trials has long been a topic of contention in the healthcare community. The NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 requires clinical research to include women and minority groups. Yet a 2015 report found that "less than 2% of clinical trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute are focused on racial or ethnic minorities."

Word of mouth -- online, that is -- can be an effective way for sponsors to increase clinical trial participation among any population. It’s important, therefore, that sponsor websites enable visitors to easily share trial information on social networks. Patient communities serve as support groups and provide online havens for those suffering from diseases, and I've seen that social sharing is rampant in them. Sponsors can reach out online to patient influencers to help get the word out about studies for specific therapeutic areas. They can also connect with patient advocates at industry conferences, especially those that include tracks with patient-centric themes.

Financial status and impact on daily routines may also discourage individuals from participating in clinical trials. Some patients have to pay for associated costs -- such as travel to and from study sites -- out of pocket. Clinical trial participation often requires participants to take time away from work. One solution that I've seen slowly gaining traction is to use technology to conduct hybrid or virtual trials, minimizing hardships for participants.

Geographical location can be another stumbling block for patients. Those who live in rural areas may simply not be aware of any nearby trials. To help them in their search, include location-based search functionality on your website to provide timely, relevant results.

Eligibility

The typical screening process for clinical trial candidates can be a lengthy process. Using technologies such as artificial intelligence and natural language processing can eliminate inefficiencies and minimize frustration.

It’s also important to maintain communication with participants before, during and after a trial. Today’s technology is smart enough to reconnect with interested patients and families who didn’t originally qualify but, based on new criteria, may now be a good fit. Sponsors can use a recommendation engine on their websites, for example, to analyze information provided by a patient online and offer suggestions regarding applicable trials.

The recent announcement by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) that eases unnecessary restrictions on clinical trial participation is a step in the right direction. However, study sponsors should seize this unique opportunity and ensure their clinical trials are properly disclosed, include accurate site information and connect interested patients to study coordinators. One way to reach a broad patient audience online is to post trial summaries on a portal that aggregates information from multiple sponsors. A more traditional way to keep enrolled participants engaged is to make printouts of trial results available at all study locations.

Making a concerted effort to increase online awareness, access and eligibility for clinical trials is a good start. In order to maintain momentum, study sponsors should fine-tune their online content to keep visitors on their website and improve conversions.

The ball is now in the study sponsors’ court. In order to increase clinical trial participation, they should educate the public and build trust along the way. Providing information and access to patients can empower them to make educated decisions about their health care and ultimately lead to improved outcomes.

This article originally appeared on the Forbes Technology Council.

About the Author

Jeff Kozloff

Jeff is a serial healthcare entrepreneur with over 18 years of pharmaceutical experience. Before taking over as TrialScope CEO in 2018, Jeff served on the Company’s Board of Directors for more than two years.

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