“Patients Are a Virtue” at the Partnerships in Clinical Trials Conference
Several thousand attendees of the 20th Anniversary Celebration for Partnerships in Clinical Trials conference in Phoenix this week are discussing everything from building trust between clinical research organizations and trial centers to hearing from the FDA regarding ensuring compliance FDA guidelines. There was even Bob Eubanks of Newlywed Game fame hosting a high-spirited game show on dealing with emerging markets, and a highly-anticipated concert by Pat Benatar, scheduled for March 31st.
The top challenge virtually EVERY attendee seemed to identify, however, was how to affordably recruit qualified patients into clinical trials…and HealthCentral participated in a session on “Technology-Based Solutions and Social Media Strategies for Patient Recruitment and Retention” where we shared case studies and tips for selecting a good online partner. I was joined on the panel by Joseph Kim of Shire Pharmaceuticals, and John Burnett of Elan Pharmaceuticals.
Prior to media fragmentation, trial recruitment was far less complicated. Clinical trials patient recruiters could buy advertisements on the leading AM radio and TV station in a specific market and be done with it. Today, however, patients are much more elusive, and leveraging a disease-specific community is a great alternative, especially now that the Web is relatively easy to geo-target. A key question on the mind of conference attendees: “Build or Buy” your way into these virtual communities of patients sharing the same condition as your trial for more targeted recruitment?
Building and managing a community of users around a particular disease state creates a very valuable asset for a clinical research organization, but the process takes more time than most recruiters have, and its management triggers a host of regulatory requirements such as adverse event reporting. Partnering with existing commercial vertical or not-for-profit advocacy sites removes some control, but it’s much faster and far less troublesome from a regulatory perspective. In all cases, panelists drew a strong distinction between merely placing online advertising on social media sites….and actually ENGAGING patients via social media. While both may be far less wasteful that traditional broadcasting to a general audience, the two-way interactivity the Web can provide leads to greater success.
Prior to the evolution from traditional to new media direct-to-patient recruiting, trials relied on referrals from physicians. Ironically, the industry may be returning to the doctor’s office, only this time, to request his files rather than his effort. In pockets around the country, recruitment tests are underway by comparing a study’s requirements by computer against mass quantities of patient Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). The lack of a consistent data standard and privacy concerns will make this a slow transition, and according to the Wall Street Journal of March 28, 2011, “if medical centers switch to a system of recruiting that relies on database searches, call centers and mass mailings, it could require considerable investment before they get reimbursed.” In the meantime, clinical trials patient recruiters will need to continue to explore other new and more efficient ways to identify and recruit specific patient populations in the wide variety of niche media they now consume…and that experimentation will continue long after the Partnerships in Clinical Trials attendees fly home on Friday.