Future-focused technology and sustainability trends in clinical research

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Technology creates great opportunities for sponsors, who increasingly integrate healthcare technology into their clinical trial protocols.

By creating solutions that fit seamlessly into patients’ lives, clinical trials can engage with them at locations that patients find convenient. In doing so, we also break down the barriers to trial participation and create better access for all. The result is a more diverse patient population and significantly increased engagement and retention rates.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the latest technologies and consider their impact on trial design, both from the patient’s perspective and an environmental standpoint.

The impact of technology on patient retention

Every time a patient drops out of a clinical trial, sponsors and CROs pay a heavy price. It can cost between $600k and $8 million each day a trial is delayed, and replacing just one patient is estimated to be around $19,533.

According to Clinical Leader, 85% of trials fail to retain enough patients, and almost 80% of studies fail to finish on time, in part due to high patient dropout rates. Patient experience needs to be a key consideration at every part of the clinical journey, and investing in patient retention is critical for clinical trials to succeed.

Technological innovations offer CROs and sponsors the opportunity to engage patients in ways that work for them. New innovations such as wearable tech, remote monitoring, and virtual clinic visits can remove some of the most common clinical trial burdens and improve the accessibility of clinical trials for a more diverse set of populations.

[Read more about the burdens faced by clinical trials patients here]

New technology and what it means for trial design

The pandemic fast-tracked the use of technology to enable decentralized clinical trials (DCTs) and hybrid models. Whether it’s through enhanced communication with patients, enabling remote data collection, or simply the realization that important trial work can continue without being face-to-face, new technologies have significantly impacted trial design.

Several technologies in particular, are transforming the research industry:

  1. Mobile health: Mobile health is the practice of virtual healthcare over smartphones, tablets, wearable devices, and computers. Apps are an important part of mobile health. They allow sponsors and CROs to engage with patients at all stages of the trial journey, from recruitment and enrollment to data monitoring and e-consent.
  2. Virtualization: Virtualization is the ability of a trial to take place outside of the research site, bringing aspects of the trial protocol directly to the patient. For example, video calling allows healthcare professionals to conduct “face-to-face” appointments and immediately respond to patient needs.
  3. Wearable tech: Significant advances in wearable tech have meant that patients can be continuously monitored using devices they may already own. Whether through smart watches, skin patches, or even smart clothing, studies can now remotely monitor and analyze information such as blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and glucose levels, all while patients go about their day.
  4. Big data and AI: AI refers to the use of computers to simulate human brain processes for acquiring information, making interpretations, reaching conclusions, and learning from experience.

Using AI means sourcing trial participants could become much easier through “digital twins” — virtual representations of patients based on historical data. AI can also be used within apps to automate previously complex and time-consuming processes. At Skyelarke, we use AI to check protocol compliance for patient payments and reimbursements.

How technology improves access for all

These advances in technology are playing an important role in improving access to clinical trials for minority groups.

According to Harvard Business Review, white men are the most likely demographic group to take part in clinical trials, while women, the elderly, and people of color—especially Black patients and patients of Latin American origin—are consistently underrepresented. Although people of color account for 40% of the US population, only about 20% are represented in clinical trials. This has a huge impact on health equity, as well as drug efficacy and safety.

While improving representation is a complex issue, technology can help remove some of the barriers to participation, including the financial and logistical burdens of traveling to and from study sites. Research has shown that 96% of all US adults own a mobile phone. With the advancements in mobile health and virtual monitoring, there’s more opportunity than ever to reach patients across all communities.

[Read more here about how convenience-enhancing health technology is reducing barriers to trial participation]

Going green in future clinical trials

Thanks to enhancements in digital technologies, clinical trials are becoming more efficient. In turn, this is leading to a positive impact on carbon emissions.

The Sustainable Trials Study Group reports that clinical trials are carbon intensive and contribute substantially to greenhouse gas emissions. The healthcare industry accounts for 4.4 – 4.6% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and similar percentages of toxic air pollutants, meaning it’s one of the most carbon-intensive service sectors in the world. The main sources of emissions are from energy use at research sites and air travel.

Moving toward decentralized and hybrid models enables sponsors and CROs to reduce their carbon footprint substantially, as patients are required to travel less. By making participation more convenient, increasing retention, and reducing the carbon footprint, the future of clinical trials is looking more effective and greener.

In summary

New technologies are disrupting the clinical trials industry for the better. They can help eliminate significant barriers to trial participation and create a better patient experience.

While not a cure-all solution, technology can help open up clinical trials to a more diverse patient population, especially when combined with a patient-first approach to trial design. Technology allows us to support patients in ways that work for them, to understand their needs better, and to create more efficient processes that benefit everyone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a much greater reliance on technology and the proliferation of hybrid and decentralized trials. What’s more, these digital trends can greatly expand access to trials for patients across all communities and prioritize diverse populations in future studies.

[Skyelarke is a patient payment platform built by and for the clinical research industry. We’re on a mission to break down barriers to participation and make clinical trials accessible to all].




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