You would think from some of the discussions at this year’s DIA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia that the digital promise to clinical research – offering among other things, deeper patient insights, faster recruitment, greater retention and cheaper, quicker, more successful trials - was all a bit fanciful; an idea that would take decades to roll out.
I was more encouraged, though, by other speakers and exhibitors at DIA who have seen the potential for innovative study design and operation, and are either implementing it themselves already or commissioning it from partners; from patient-friendly, online study materials, to web-based advertising, and relationship-building with patient advocacy groups – particularly those with an online presence.
In one of the most energizing talks at the meeting, David LeDuc, director of the Bonnie J Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, related vividly how his organisation’s advocacy for new approaches had benefited patient recruitment and retention in US lung cancer studies. The raft of initiatives included: overlaying of multiple data sources to digitally map patient hot spots, thereby spotting where new study sites should be located and deducing where patients might live; promotion of ethically-approved remote consenting tools; the use of community hospitals to open satellite sites nearer to patients; and the development of more accessible and up-to-date patient registries.
In rare disease, the recruitment and retention challenge requires an even more accommodating, and patient-centered approach from study sponsors, as Scott Schliebner of PRA Health Sciences testified at a session dedicated to innovation in this field. Dr Schliebner pointed out that study sites are often located many hours’ travel from where would-be participants live, and this affects not only the patients but also their families who are frequently tasked with bringing them back and forth to study sites. PRA Health’s solution, he said, was to bring the trial nearer to the patient, by creating satellite sites closer to where they lived, or even engaging partners who would visit the patients in their own homes.
Social listening was also being used to garner patient insight on everything from patient and family perspectives on the disease to new medications or trials that were underway.
Another tactic for identifying where thinly-scattered patients were, recommended by Donny Chen of PPD, included the trawling of insurance claims data to see what medications patients were obtaining and where; what lab tests they were undergoing; and even pinpointing the prescribing physician.
About the author:Julie Walters, Raremark, the Founder, is a contributing writer for the Partnerships in Clinical Trials conference who has over 20 years of experience in the digital healthcare sector, including time spent as a news reporter and news editor at Sky News, Reuters TV and Good Morning.