Earlier this year, I served on the expert panel for an mdGroup webinar entitled “Can Technology Improve the Human Touch in Clinical Trials”. Here are a few of the talking points raised in response to the moderator’s questions.
How Is Technology Changing the Clinical Trial Landscape?
At Longboat we keep track of the reasons patients don’t sign up for trials that they might be eligible for. Often, patients cite things like the burden of attending a clinic, taking time off from work, and managing day care; these are the concerns that impact both patient recruitment and retention the most. The advent of wearables and telemedicine gives me real hope that we are finally going to be able to build an environment in which we can be less rigid in our trial protocols and where technology can make trials more patient-centric. I can certainly see the move to hybridized trials, if not (fully) decentralized trials, in the very near future. We are slow in our industry to adopt change, but the pandemic has moved things forward more quickly.
Technology can also lessen the burden on site staff, giving them more time to discuss things with their patients and be a bit more patient-centric themselves. Of course, that technology must be meaningful, impactful, and strategically implemented so that we actually reduce the burden on sites, rather than add to the list of things that they must do to conduct a study.
Finally, technology provides sponsors and study teams with more data and more insights, allowing them to be more proactive with sites and patients, and to make decisions more proactively about their studies and programs going forward.
What Are Some Challenges That Patients Can Face When Adapting to Technologies?
Patients will be overwhelmed in many cases – maybe, for example, they have just been diagnosed and have entered into a clinical trial quite quickly. Then on top of that, they get some new technology foisted on them. The big challenge, the first challenge, is taking the time to educate patients. It’s important that when we introduce technology, we explain why we’re using it, the importance of the data being collected, and what is and is not done with the data.
To help patients accept and use technology, we should also be making it as visually appealing as it can be. All too often we don’t make interfaces easy to use or attractive. No one wants to struggle with an interface that they can’t understand or that doesn’t appeal to them visually. We need to test technology with users, and we need to make changes in response to their feedback. There’s no reason a user interface can’t be user-friendly.
The technology that patients can most readily adopt is easy to use, is not burdensome, fits into patients’ lives, does not interrupt day-to-day activities, and is understood to be safe and secure.
Can Technology Replace the Human Touch?
No. Technology is not going to replace the human touch. There are situations and issues that require a face-to-face interaction, even if it’s just checking in with a patient. You can’t discern everything or achieve everything via telemedicine. And patients need to feel that they’re not just test subjects. You’ve got to show patients some appreciation.