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Human interaction is still vital, even with new technology trends in clinical trials

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Pulse on Patient Recruitment by Ashley Tointon

Healthcare technology has evolved and has created efficiencies in a variety of healthcare settings.

One crucial consideration when developing or deploying healthcare technology is human interaction. The goal of technology should be to aid human interaction, not to replace it entirely. It also is to be mindful that not everyone will receive technology in the same way.

Three technology trends proving to be beneficial for the management of clinical trials are e-consenting, remote monitoring and mobile apps—all of which rely heavily on human interaction.

Older adults more likely to have physical or health conditions that make technology use challenging

E-consenting is an automated way for study participants to learn about and provide informed consent for a clinical trial. Traditionally, this has been a paper-based process, but now it can be fully automated. Many e-consent services deploy the use of tablets and can accept full signature. Many patients are comfortable with electronic learning modules and actually prefer the technology to the paper process. In addition, because it allows participants to learn about the study through multi-media such as videos and graphics, this format actually increases their understanding. In this instance, human interaction with the tablet may be more positive than the human interaction of the paper process. Although fully automated, the process includes personal interactions before and after the e-consent that will remain important as more companies adopt e-consenting for their studies.

Remote monitoring is another technology that aids human interaction and creates efficiencies. Monitoring is a highly regulated process that ensures studies are valid, reliable and, above all, that volunteers’ rights are protected. Based on the outcome of a risk assessment, there is an option to view source documents online and save a Clinical Research Associate (CRA) an in-person trip. While remote monitoring currently is not able to totally replace on-site monitoring, it is an acceptable addition to the monitoring plan. In this example, when both on-site visits and remote visits are used, human interaction is not replaced but actually may become more important. One could argue as the number of visits decreases, the importance of human interaction during those on-site visits increases.

Mobile apps are another area that has seen recent significant growth in the clinical trial space. These apps are being deployed for various activities, including the recruitment and retention of clinical trial participants. Due to the wide adoption and usage of mobile technologies, human interaction with mobile devices is a natural progression within healthcare. Privacy remains a concern for the industry, and communication on a personal device often can provide a sense of security for patients. A simple mobile app that sends patients text message appointment reminders can reduce the number of missed visits significantly. Although a text message may be automatically generated by a system, from a user perspective the communication seems personal.

Human interaction with technology will remain a topic as healthcare follows trends of other industries. Because the expectations of healthcare technology are so high, with little to no allowance for error, we also must realize that mistakes do occur. Technology will not replace the human interaction between patient and physician, CRA and study coordinator or sponsor and CRO, but it will matter how those interactions are valued and how staff are trained.

Nothing can take the place of face-to-face interaction; it is during these connections that we share non-verbal cues and learn how to empathize with others. Providing technology as an option as opposed to rolling it out as a mandate considers people who may not be able to use technology due to physical or health conditions. As healthcare technology evolves, we must remain committed to valuing personal connections and not forfeiting them for efficiency. 


Ashley Tointon directs patient engagement programs at ePharma Solutions, combining traditional methods with innovative, data-driven techniques to provide sponsors high-impact, cost-effective recruitment and retention programs. She has more than 18 years of patient recruitment and project management experience supporting clinical trials and the pharmaceutical industry.

This article was reprinted from CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »

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