Beginner’s Guide to a Participant Payment System

Kristina Lopienski
August 15th, 2017

If you’ve been cutting checks or using other methods of payment to compensate and reimburse research subjects and are now thinking about adopting a participant payment system, this guide is for you.

What is a participant payment system?

A participant payment system is an application accessed through an internet browser that supports the transfer of funds from research organizations to clinical trial participants. The system is designed to streamline the payment and review process for study stipends and reimbursements.

Who uses a participant payment system?

Sponsors, CROs and sites can use a participant payment system, though in most cases site staff will be end users. Everyone in the system must be granted a role, as determined by the organization. The role defines the areas of the application to which the user has access. Some roles allow the user access to all protocols, while other roles allow users to access only those protocols to which they have been assigned. Other nuances in roles can be limiting the exposure of PHI.

There are three main types of users in a participant payment system:

 1. Admin users

Administrators typically oversee the use of the system and can do anything within it. These users are the only ones who can create users, set protocol-specific amounts for stipend payments, as well as other administrative tasks.

2. Study coordinators

CRCs will use the system as they interact with a patient to make the right payment during the right visit. The typical activities of this user include adding participants, checking patients into visits and paying pre-approved stipends.

 3. Finance departments

The role of the financial reviewer is on the accounting side. They use the payment review queue, pay reimbursements and run reports.

Getting buy-in from all of these end users is important to meeting the needs of those who would be directly involved in the payment process.

What are the benefits of a participant payment system?

It allows each participant to choose from several payment options.

With a variety of payment options available, a participant payment system makes it easy to cater to different patient preferences without creating extra work for your organization. Rather than offering only one method of payment and making the decision for the patient, you can offer a variety. From reloadable cards to direct deposit to paper checks, each participant can choose the option that best fits his or her lifestyle.

It makes it possible for participants to be paid immediately.

Traditional payment methods such as check processing can delay funds to participants by four to eight weeks. An electronic payment system can drastically speed up these timelines. For standard, expected payments such as stipends, amounts can be set upfront, so coordinators can hit ‘Pay’ in the system and release funds as soon as the study visit is complete. Rather than submitting individual check requests to a bookkeeper or finance department for each one of these routine payments, patients can receive money right away.

It reduces the number of steps it takes to pay participants.

Not only should a participant payment system improve the patient experience, it should also simplify the workflow for each end user. A system will reduce the time and number of manual steps involved, while helping put an end to tedious and time-consuming check cutting. (If a participant chooses to receive paper checks through Forte’s participant payment system, Forte handles check processing, taking this work away from the organization.)

Automated workflows help streamline the payment review and approval process. From study coordinators paying a participant in a few clicks, to finance departments using a review queue to approve, modify or reject payments, the system optimizes user experience and increases productivity.

It centralizes payment information for greater visibility.

In addition to making life easier for individual users, a participant payment system also improves communication at the organizational level. With all information about paying research subjects in one place, no one is left guessing. The system serves as a record with a history of visits and payments, providing visibility across users. This eliminates a lot of the typical back-and-forth between finance departments and study coordinators who need a variety of information to justify payments.

It helps prevent accounting mistakes.

It can be difficult to remember how much to pay each participant for each study visit on each protocol. On top of that, you need to remember whether travel reimbursements are allowed for a certain protocol and other such details related to paying research volunteers. When you’re manually managing these payments and continuously receiving individual check requests, it’s easy to make mistakes. A system can help accounting stay organized by keeping controls in place that leave less room for error. With the ability to establish protocol-specific visit stipend amounts and reimbursement allowances upfront that cannot be edited, organizations can ensure the correct amount is being paid at the right time.

For payments that require manual review, finance departments can easily view a list of requests when they log in to the system and then approve, modify or reject the payments. Not only does this help prevent accounting mistakes and data entry errors, it also makes it easy to track everything required for financial and tax reporting purposes.

It’s provides security for both research organizations and participants.

For payment methods such as pre-loaded debit cards or gift cards, there are more concerns with financial security. The value is already on the card, so there is greater risk in the event that they are misplaced or stolen. Moving to an electronic system can help protect both participants and sites. For patients who choose bank deposits to receive funds, a payment system allows the participant to enter bank account information on his or her own by logging into a personal portal. This is safer than having a site collect this information. For participants who choose to receive funds via reloadable debit card, support is provided in case the card is lost or stolen to help prevent or resolve any fraudulent charges.

When collecting and dealing with PHI and financial transactions, the data must be encrypted. With compliance controls and network security that protect against threats and privacy breaches, payment systems have many layers of protection, storage and backups to protect confidential information and reduce the likelihood of security mishaps. Finally, there should be options for limiting the exposure of PHI for certain roles and a log to track who submitted each payment and any users who made edits or status changes with time stamps.

It’s a cost-effective solution.

Financially speaking, the cost of a participant payment system ranges across vendors. However, switching to a more efficient method should save money overall. With regard to Forte’s participant payment system, Kerry Bridges, Administrator, Clinical Trials Office, Indiana University Simon Cancer Center said, “We did a cost-benefit analysis, and by calculating staff time for the actual time that nursing spends on requesting and completing repeated paperwork with each payment visit, as well as finance time spent on burdensome financial systems requirements, the clinical trials office saw a 48% cost savings per card.”

The learning curve is very short.

Unlike other types of software used in clinical trials that require extensive training, the participant payment system is really straightforward and easy to learn. (Forte’s payment system only takes an hour or two to learn!) It’s a simple standalone solution, so end users become comfortable using it very quickly, requiring no large time investment upfront.

What are the features of a participant payment system?

Protocol setup

Admin users can add visits for any protocol into the system and customize the following details:

  • Enter stipend amounts for each visit
  • Define whether or not reimbursements are allowed, types of reimbursements permitted (mileage, hotel, parking etc.) and set maximums
  • Add free-text guidelines that will appear on-screen to users

Participant check-in

Study coordinators add participants to the system for the first time, at which point CRCs add patients to a protocol and indicate the payment option the participant selected to receive funds. The next upcoming visit for a given patient will automatically populate, and CRCs mark a visit as occurred, missed or N/A. For pre-approved stipends, CRCs can click ‘Pay’ at visit completion without having to wait for accounting to release the funds. CRCs can also enter requests for reimbursements, such as mileage, parking, hotel and others if applicable to the protocol, and enter additional comments as part of the request.

Payment review

For payments that need to be reviewed before they are released to a participant (e.g., travel reimbursements that require receipts and can vary across patients), a review queue serves as a working list of pending requests that are sent to accounting. Upon review, finance departments have the ability to approve or reject these payments. Additionally, an audit trail can show who submitted each payment and any users who made edits or status changes – all with time stamps.


To meet financial and tax reporting needs, a variety of canned or built-in reports are available for a list of participant payments within a specified date range, including:

  • 1099s
  • Itemized receipts
  • Sponsor invoicing

Participant portal

To provide participants visibility into their compensation, a system comes with a web portal or mobile app with a personal login for each patient. This allows patients to check their current balance, securely access account information and manage automated notification preferences for completed transfers.

If you’re ready to trade in tedious check processing for something more efficient and modern, check out Forte’s participant payment system.