CWWeekly presents this biweekly feature as a spotlight on issues that executives in clinical research face. This week, writer Suz Redfearn spoke with Greg Sweatt, co-founder and senior vice president of life sciences for ePatientFinder, a service that CROs and sponsors contract with to help those doctors close to sites mine their patient base for clinical trial subjects.
Q: Patient-centricity is very popular now. What does it mean from your perspective as co-founder of a business that helps drive patients to sites?
A: For me, patient-centricity is about surrounding the patient with knowledgeable caregivers who know the patient well, are aware of important trials, and can say, “You seem to fit this protocol. I think maybe we should sit down together and see if this is right for you.” There are providers who know the patients, know the standard of care, know what’s lacking in certain therapeutic areas and might even know about needle-moving trials going on in that area, but don’t have the time to sit with the patient and connect with them on it. Or they would bring up trials, if they knew about them, but they don’t have that knowledge. We’ve been working on changing that. This is where we want to move the industry.
Q: What barriers has clinical research traditionally run into with physicians?
A: For so long, this industry has puzzled over why physicians don’t refer patients into trials. Here’s an example of a potential reason. A principal investigator (PI) talks to colleagues, perhaps doctors he went to college with, doctors he runs into at conferences or maybe they play golf together. The PI might say, would you please keep an eye out for patients who have cluster migraines? And if you come across some, would you refer them to me? The colleagues might be happy to, but will remember that for about three days. Or maybe the physician remembers, but when a patient comes into his office with cluster headaches, he realizes he doesn’t really know anything about the trial and therefore isn’t comfortable saying anything. Or he really has no idea how to do a query on the patient’s electronic health records to pull useful information for his PI friend. The doctor is confused and fears the patient will be confused, so he just skips it.
What we have found is that doctors are driven by operational efficiencies, clinical excellence and some sort of revenue stream. If you want them to work with you, you have to help further things for them in these three areas.
If you want a doctor to adopt awareness of a clinical trial, you have to make it easy to access electronic health records and understand what your protocol demands. And make it easy for the staff to participate, too. You can’t ask staff to do a lot of work because they’re not going to do it. They don’t have time. You have to guarantee that these are meaningful clinical trials. And you have to find a regulatory compliant way to reimburse them for their time.
Q: What will all this look like in five years?
A: A common theme so far for us is how electronic health records can be made actionable. That’s what everyone wants to know. You can understand, say, that there are a lot of diabetics in a region, but is that an example of taking data and making it actionable or is that just shining a candle on a situation a lot of patients find themselves in? How do you take a map and make it so geo-precise that you are able to explain with certainty that these particular types of patients are located within these particular doctor’s office parameters and that you’ll go ask that doctor to talk to those patients?
Then, how do you go out and engage those doctors in a truly meaningful way so that they feel like they’re an important part of pivotal clinical research? In five years, I believe we will have solved all of this and there will be fewer sites with larger numbers of patients. I think every sponsor and CRO out there would like to have a list of the best sites. In a few years, CROs and sponsors will know which sites they can go to that have robust populations filled with referring physicians with the right patient bases that they can easily tap into, and patients who are happy to sign up because their physician sat down with them privately and explained the trial.
This article was reprinted from Volume 20, Issue 43, of CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »