Research champions—Not your grandmother’s referring physicians

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The changing ecosystem of clinical research—empowered by advances ranging from CRISPR Cas9 technology and genomic analysis of biomarkers to mechanobiology and predictive data monitor—calls us to reconsider the role of referring physicians in patient enrollment. These and other technologies will shift resources from the traditional investigative site model focused on a large number of sites enrolling many patients to a more networked model of sub-investigators focused on screening patients for specific biomarkers. 

In the U.K., Belgium, Germany and the U.S., both government agencies and commercial sponsors are piloting studies with one principal investigator and multiple sub-investigators solely responsible for comprehensive screening of potential study participants.

With this in mind, my team has surveyed physicians from 25 countries annually since 2015 to better understand their willingness to refer their patients to clinical trials in which they are not a primary investigator. Year after year, surveyed physicians overwhelmingly state that they are willing to inform and refer their patients to other clinical study opportunities (averaging 88% willing; 12% unwilling).

Physicians willing to refer their patients cite lack of information about opportunities for their patients as their primary obstacle to successfully referring patients. They are looking for in-depth information shared with them by well-informed study representatives able to engage in a discussion. Interestingly, the reputation of the study sponsor and the physician’s satisfaction with that sponsor’s prior communication with them—either as a principal investigator or a referring physician—are key factors impacting referrals.

Those doctors who are unwilling to refer patients to other investigators cite worries that they might lose their patients’ respect as well as control over their patients’ care.

We cannot continue to assert that physicians are disinclined to refer their patients. As the infrastructure of clinical trials evolves, so must sponsors’ willingness to re-evaluate new ways of engaging the research champions that referring physicians can and want to be.


Guest Contributor Sarah Mandracchia is the Director of Media and Research at BBK Worldwide. She has a decade of experience translating complex market research and patient insights into effective media strategies for global patient recruitment campaigns. She is responsible for upholding strategic direction and imperatives throughout the lifecycle of clinical trial programs. In 2015, she was named to the PharmaVOICE 100 for her commitment to advancing clinical research.

This article was reprinted from Volume 24, Issue 08, of The CenterWatch Monthly, an industry leading publication providing hard-hitting, authoritative business and financial coverage of the clinical research space. The Action Items section features short columns  focusing on actionable or how-to advice from clinical trial professionals. To submit an Action Item, please contact Subscribe >>

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