Have Clinical Trials Achieved Patient Engagement?

patient engagement

A recent study shows that, while there is still progress to be made, clinical trials are implementing new tools to boost patient engagement.

Patient recruitment issues remain the biggest thorn in the shoe of clinical trials across the country. Only 32% of today’s drugs make it to Phase III clinical trials, and only 1 in 10 will make it to the market. Even worse, when trials fail because of recruitment issues, pharma companies can expect to lose between $800 million and $1.4 billion.

One proposed solution to patient recruitment issues is more emphasis on patient engagement, which prioritizes the patient experience during trials, removes obstacles to treatment, and helps patients take more ownership over their health during the course of the study. But it’s not always clear whether those efforts are in place – or whether they’re helping trials hit recruitment targets.

A new study from Applied Clinical Trials and SCORR Marketing asked clinical trial managers, sponsors, and CROs to report on their experiences with patient engagement activities. The results show that while clinical trials may have a long way to go when it comes to sustaining quality engagement, there is an increasing emphasis on finding new ways to recruit and connect with patients.

Bumps in the Road

Patient centricity is a popular topic among sponsors and CROs looking to recruit participants for their clinical trials. However, more than half of those surveyed reported that their trial had no individual or department that was primarily responsible for patient engagement. Another 40% of respondents said that they do not solicit input directly from patients for any of their patient engagement activities.

The lack of resources devoted to patient engagement in clinical trials may be due to budgetary constraints. Survey results indicated that insufficient funds were a major obstacle for sponsors and CROs in implementing and measuring patient engagement activities. It’s clear that the desire to connect with patients and solicit their feedback is there, but many trials struggle to find an efficient means to do so.

Re-Imagining Patient Engagement

When asked about the most important factors in creating a clinical trial, respondents reported that developing a better trial design for patients and identifying acceptable risks and benefits were at the top of their lists. Those surveyed indicated that trials should focus on engagement to ensure that patients adhere to their medication plan and continue to show up for site visits. Patient satisfaction was also key, tying with patient retention as the second most significant benefit of patient engagement.

Faced with limited resources and support, many clinical trials are leveraging new technology to boost patient engagement and satisfaction. Reports show that sponsors and CROs are increasingly using mHealth and digital technology to connect with patients. While the results of these efforts have so far been mixed – apps, web portals, social media, and instant messaging all received half marks for effectiveness – there is much opportunity for growth in this area.

How Digital Technology Can Boost Engagement

Measuring patient engagement is a challenge for many clinical trials, but most of those surveyed reported that they believe engagement activities will increase over the next few years. While the results show that there is still much progress to be made, they also indicate a general trend toward progress. It’s clear that clinical operations managers, directors, and staff believe that robust engagement activities are essential for a successful clinical trial.

An important part of engaging patients is reaching out to them on the channels they’re already using to search for health information, such as Google and social media platforms. Many sponsors and CROs are embracing digital marketing tools – including paid ads across search engines and social media sites – to connect with patients before they’re even enrolled in the trial. Given that Google fields over 175 million healthcare-related searches per day, it’s clear that patients are interested in clinical research and will be receptive to information about trials that can help them with their conditions.

Connecting with patients on search engines and social media can take clinical trial recruitment to the next level. If the clinical research community wants an engaged patient base, it has to take the first step.

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