Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Clinical Trial Patient Engagement Challenge: Can You Build a Great App?

This blog was originally posted on Rebar Interactive

Patient engagement has been hailed as the “blockbuster drug of the century.”

Even if you think this statement is hyperbole, it’s hard to deny that patient engagement has great potential to improve healthcare.

For example, engaged patients tend to have better outcomes, and perhaps even lower healthcare costs. That’s the conclusion of a growing body of research, which is nicely summarized in an excellent white paper published by Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The research around patient engagement in the context of clinical trials is more sparse. However, we’d be remiss to ignore such great potential.

(If you’d like to skip my musings on patient engagement and get to the details about the app challenge, scroll down.)

Clinical Trial “Best” Practices: Are We Sure About That?

My interest in patient engagement began during five years as a clinical research coordinator.

There were parents whose ePRO device alarms repeatedly woke their young children. There were those with Alzheimer’s (and their caregivers) who struggled with laborious and confusing drug packaging. There were working professionals who had difficulty making appointments within rigid visit windows.

And the list goes on.

Clinical Trial Best Practices
Is this really the best we can do?
Is this the best we can do?
I witnessed patient frustration with industry practices, many of which were considered “best” practices, time and time again. Each of these frustrations, individually, may not have been a big deal for the patient. But taken together, they made clinical trial participation burdensome and served to disengage patients from the clinical research process.

That’s unfortunate because patients view other aspects of participation quite positively. For instance, a recent large-scale study found that patients generally feel valued and respected by investigators.

Patient Engagement and Satisfaction

Interestingly, the same study also found this:
Participants who rated their experience highly were the ones who felt most respected, who felt they could trust the research team and who felt valued as a partner in the research process. They also wanted to be able to make contact with the research team readily when they had a question or problem. A large majority wanted to receive some feedback about the results of the study.

These findings suggest a correlation between patient engagement with the clinical research process and satisfaction with the clinical research experience. (The direction of the correlation could be up to interpretation, but that’s a topic probably best explored in a future blog post.)

We have a moral obligation to provide a (more than) good experience for patients. And engagement in the clinical research process is an important aspect of a good experience. But the case for greater patient engagement is not just a moral argument.

It’s also a business argument.

The Business Case: Clinical Trials as Product

The state of clinical trials and patient recruitment reminds me of the book Ice to the Eskimos: How to Market a Product Nobody Wants.

Admittedly, I’ve never read the book, and for all I know it could be fabulous. But I’ve always been a bit horrified by the premise (as well as the stereotype) set forth in the title. Why market a product people don’t want or need?! Instead, why not aspire to create a product that, to paraphrase Steve Jobs, people want to lick?

Promotion is not enough to attract clinical trial
But that’s what we are often reduced to in clinical trials — marketing a product very few people find attractive.

This focus on increasing patient accrual through promotion has been expensive and wasteful (though I’m sure quite profitable for some service providers). And it’s only going to get more expensive and more wasteful. In the increasingly fast-paced, choice-abundant, information-rich society we live in, people have less and less tolerance for things they neither need nor want. They also have the means to tune out what they’d rather not tolerate.

Rather than throwing more promotional resources at the patient recruitment problem, it’s time to step back and rethink how we address it.

The bulk of that rethinking, in my opinion, should be devoted to improving clinical trials as a product. And patient engagement offers a huge opportunity for such improvement.

The business case is quite simple, really.

If we engage patients, they’ll be more likely to initiate and continue clinical trial participation, resulting in a host of benefits:

  • - Less resources spent on patient recruitment
  • - Shorter enrollment periods
  • - Improved drug development timelines
  • - Various intangibles like improving perceptions of pharma, etc.

The Patient Engagement App Challenge

By now it should be obvious that I feel pretty strongly about this topic and would like to see more attention on patient engagement.

So I was honored and delighted to be asked to serve on the Patient Engagement App Challenge judging panel.

Can you create a great app for patient engagement?

The challenge “is asking developers from across the globe to submit apps that educate, engage, and empower participants enrolled in clinical studies.”

Practically speaking, app feature possibilities might relate to, but are not limited to:

  • - Patient Engagement App Challenge Sponsors
  • - These organizations are sponsoring the challenge.
  • - Patient education
  • - Communication
  • - Scheduling
  • - Medication Adherence
  • - Travel

Submissions will be judged on the following criteria:

  • - Quality of the Idea/Vision
  • - Visual Presentation and Implementation
  • - Potential Impact
  • - Patient Value

Challenge winners will be awarded $24,000 in prizes, and the submission deadline is February 11.

I’ve been involved in two previous challenges, both as a participant/winner and as a judge, strengthening my appreciation for the role of challenges in innovation.

As a participant/winner, I expanded the limits of my capabilities and opened up opportunities that would not have otherwise been available to me. And as a judge, I witnessed how challenges can meritocratically uncover worthwhile ideas and talent that might not get exposure in our industry.

So if you think you can build a great app for clinical trial patient engagement, I’d urge you to take a closer look at the challenge website. I look forward to seeing your submission!

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