May 22nd, 2019

How One Hospital Is Reaching Rural Patients for Clinical Trial Recruitment

Reaching Rural Patients for Clinical Trial Recruitment

Recruiting patients in rural areas can help clinical trials meet enrollment benchmarks while simultaneously providing potentially life-saving treatment to underserved populations.

Despite devoting extensive resources to patient recruitment, clinical trials continue to struggle to reach their enrollment goals. In fact, insufficient enrollment is frequently cited as a reason for trial termination. There are a variety of obstacles that may prevent patients from enrolling in studies, but one of the most common is the inconvenience of traveling to clinical research sites: transportation is reported as a barrier to trial participation by 42% of patients.

Inadequate transportation is particularly limiting for patients in rural areas, where traveling to and from an investigator site may not be feasible. In an effort to reach these patients, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is using a $3.9 million grant to bring cardiac surgery clinical trials to rural areas in Maine and New Hampshire. Provided by the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, this grant intends to expand treatment options for elderly patients in remote locations who may not otherwise have access to care.

While not all clinical trials have access to such robust funding, sponsors and CROs can invest in digital solutions like telehealth and remote monitoring to expand their patient bases. By committing to recruitment efforts that target rural and elderly populations – and designing studies that meet the unique needs of these patients – clinical trials can get one step closer to reaching their enrollment goals.

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Grant Brings Healthcare to Rural Patients

“This grant will provide opportunities to bring innovative cardiovascular therapies and clinical trials to our rural patients with high rates of cardiovascular disease,” stated Alexander Iribarne, Director of Cardiac Surgery Research at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and the principal investigator for the seven-year grant.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock is partnering with Maine Medical Center to provide access to clinical trials for around 200 cardiac patients in The Pine Tree State. This initiative is especially pertinent considering patients in rural areas of New England tend to have higher rates of cardiovascular disease than their urban counterparts. The results of the trial will be used to examine differences in healthcare outcomes between rural and urban patients.

How Digital Technology Can Expand Clinical Trial Access

Sponsors and CROs should draw inspiration from Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s efforts to bring clinical trials to rural areas, especially since advancements in digital healthcare have made it easier than ever to enroll patients remotely. For instance, wearable devices enable researchers to collect valuable data without requiring patients to travel to investigator sites. Similarly, an array of telemedicine options allows patients to check in regularly with their doctors from the comfort of their own homes.

In addition to opening up clinical trials to a whole new population of patients, digital technology can help sponsors and CROs reduce attrition by prioritizing flexibility and convenience. Doing so also allows researchers to collect data from an historically underrepresented group – i.e. rural patients – while simultaneously providing that group with access to potentially life-saving treatments.

While smart sensors and virtual communication are pivotal to designing an effective digital trial, it’s equally important to bridge the awareness gap that prevents many patient groups from participating in research. To do this, sponsors and CROs can use search and social media advertising to connect with audiences in remote areas. For instance, Facebook ads can be targeted at patients who “like” pages or have joined groups related to specific medical conditions. Facebook also offers geographic targeting features, so clinical trials can be sure to reach patients in the right areas.

Taking a page from Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s book can help sponsors and CROs connect with new and potentially untapped patient demographics. Plus, by focusing on remote and rural recruitment, clinical trials have a greater chance of boosting patient numbers and reaching their enrollment goals.