Advancements in clinical research with the adoption of evolving technology has brought many new opportunities to patient recruitment. The industry is experiencing considerable trends that are changing the way researchers find, screen and retain patients. These developments, such as the ability to geotarget specific regions or monitor real-time data, have led to increased efficiency in identifying patients.
One of the most significant changes to occur in the past few decades relates to how we obtain, store and recall information. These processes have largely shifted from a paper-based environment to the digital space. In the business world, big data reigns supreme and it is firmly establishing a presence in the clinical trials arena as well. Many technology partners are harnessing the power of big data to leverage electronic health records with healthcare providers, sponsors and CROs. From a protocol feasibility perspective, mining electronic health data allows sponsors and investigators the ability to determine if a specific population exists. For instance, if a sponsor is considering a trial for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is interested in considering a subpopulation of those patients who also have osteoporosis, big data can determine if these patients are reachable.
In addition to protocol feasibility, in terms of patient recruitment, this data can provide valuable insight related to geography. The process of geotargeting is on the rise for many patient recruitment providers who have the ability to identify areas with a higher concentration of specific patients. This is also useful to determine site selection based on geography and the potential for competing studies. The ability to geotarget also has vast implications for sites in terms of optimizing advertising spend. Various online advertising platforms have made it easier to target messaging geographically, thus ensuring sites aren’t expending dollars for advertising to subjects who do not have ready access to the site location.
Social listening platforms have shaken up the marketing environment and may eventually become more popular than traditional market research formats such as focus groups. Many patient recruitment service providers are tapping into these tools to monitor conversations happening all over the internet. These tools pull from millions of sources, including message boards, blogs, forums, social media and sharing sites, and allow the ability to segment data in order to learn what patients or industry leaders are saying. These platforms play an important role in the shift toward a more patient-centric approach in clinical research recruitment as they amplify the voice of patients.
Another type of recruitment trend increasing in popularity is the use of clinical trial matching services. Many of these services are based online, and allow potential patients to sign up by providing information that could be relevant to match them to potential studies in their area. Some of these registration-based services enable communication with other patients, allowing them to share health experiences related to their condition. There are additional providers that do not require registration, and serve as a searchable online database. These types of services rely on the patient directly contacting clinical trial researchers with the information provided. There are also clinical trial matching services hosted by patient advocacy groups that specialize in specific indications. These listing platforms are not always created with the sole intention of connecting patients to clinical trials, but are set up to create a larger community of people experiencing similar health indications.
In addition to new trends in recruitment, numerous providers have emerged with the intention of keeping patients enrolled in studies. There is no shortage of mobile applications aimed at engaging patients before, during and after a study. Going electronic with patient stipends is another developing trend aimed at delivering an overall increase in patient retention. Many providers offer debit or cash cards that provide patients with quick and easy access to reimbursement funds and also reduce administrative burden for sites.
Travel assistance for patients is also a growing area where the industry is seeing an increase of new opportunities to connect sites and remote patients. Traditionally, proximity near public transportation hubs was ideal for recruitment, and travel inconvenience is often cited as a reason for declining participation among patients (see Figure). Now there are solutions that offer more flexibility in terms of site or patient location. Many of these providers offer ground or air travel logistics, accommodations, reimbursement options and preferred rates.
These collective trends in patient recruitment should offer numerous benefits to research sites. The opportunity for optimized enrollment is an important and critical need. It is an exciting time as the industry adapts to the growing number of solutions technology has to offer.
Dr. Christophe Berthoux has been the chief executive officer at Synexus since September 2010. Synexus is the world’s leading site management organization (SMO), dedicated to the recruitment and management of clinical trials across the globe for over 24 years. Synexus is proud to be the patient’s choice for clinical research. Email comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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