Will the Technology Industry Take Control of the Clinical Trial Experience?

April Schultz
May 8th, 2018

At the inaugural Bridging Clinical Research and Health Care collaborative forum, hosted at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in early April 2018, clinical research professionals gathered together in hopes of addressing the research industry’s most pressing challenges. One challenge in particular seemed to resonate for many in the room and was a key theme throughout much of the event: the industry’s slow adoption of new technologies and consumer-driven applications.

While this challenge is certainly not a new topic in clinical research, the industry’s resistance to the changing technological landscape has taken on greater urgency as new players step into the world of research, wellness and health care. The emergence of applications and services from high-powered technology companies, such as Apple’s ResearchKit, Verily’s Study Watch, and Amazon’s pharmaceutical sales, are making many in the research space nervous—and maybe for good reason.

As these technology companies enter the clinical research landscape, we’re realizing more than ever that the current research environment has not adapted to make it easy and appealing to take part in the clinical trial process.  

Are we losing control of the participant relationship?

Ultimately, the fear is that if the research industry doesn’t start embracing technology and making the clinical trial process more participant-friendly, the technology industry will eventually take control of the participant relationship. If the research industry continues to be slow to adopt consumer technology, research organizations will eventually phase out of the conversation.  

Technology companies like Apple, Alphabet and Amazon, in particular, have incredibly well-established brand recognition and have already built relationships with the individuals who will be using their health apps, devices and services. In an industry where patient centricity is still a fairly young concept, this can be intimidating.

Why isn’t research more consumer-driven?

In many ways, it seems what scares the research industry most is that the technology companies are consumer-driven and have the ability to creatively serve their customers. They use a business-to-consumer model and, as a result, their products and services are dictated by the needs and wants of the individuals who will be using those products. These companies already know how to streamline the user experience, because that’s what they’re built to do and that’s how they stay successful.

This consumer-driven model is something the research industry still has yet to achieve. Even to this day, clinical research is a very manual and paper-driven process that is largely dictated by a business-to-business framework. The patient experience still isn’t prioritized to the degree it should be.

Clinical trial participants are asked to step out of their world of immediate gratification—where they are able to perform most tasks electronically, many of their transactions are automatic, and they can answer nearly any question with a quick internet search—into a world where they are required to complete paper forms, wait weeks (maybe months) to have their questions answered and many times have to actively reach out via phone or in person to learn about clinical trials they could be eligible for.

What can we learn from the technology industry?

It’s true that the research industry has multiple regulations and hurdles the technology industry doesn’t have. However, in an age where technology is engrained into the culture and lifestyle of our trial participants, these regulations cannot be used as an excuse for the industry’s lack of technology adoption. Mobile health technology, wearables, artificial intelligence and gamification are all methods to reduce the barriers to entry for participants, improve the clinical trial experience and potentially increase participant recruitment and retention. These technologies are available to us now, we’re just not using them.

Attendees of the Bridging Clinical Research and Health Care collaborative forum agreed the research industry needs a change of mindset. In many ways, patient centricity is becoming more commonly adopted. However, the industry still struggles to eliminate common hurdles to participation in clinical trials, such as numerous in-hospital visits, travel time/cost, lack of awareness, and more—most of which could be addressed by consumer technology. It’s time to take a note from companies like Apple, Alphabet and Amazon and streamline the clinical trial experience by designing trials with and for the participants.

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