It’s a patient-centric world. Patients today are active consumers, not passive recipients. They want to be a partner in your clinical trial. How can you make use of technology to meet their needs, help them feel engaged in your study, and ensure a more successful clinical trial?
The first article in this six-part Tech Success series discusses the power and potential of mobile communications to enhance patient retention.
Not so long ago, patients were passive consumers. Visit the doctor, nod in agreement, fill the prescription, do what he says. Most people would not have thought to question a doctor’s diagnosis, seek a second opinion, or chat with other people who had the same condition.
Enter the Internet and everything has changed. Today’s patients are empowered. They want information, they want options, and they want to talk with other patients. They expect to be active participants and work with their doctors to make decisions about their health care.
Many clinical trial sponsors, however, haven’t yet embraced this new era of patient-centric medicine. Study participants are still expected to be passive consumers: submit their blood samples and complete their study diaries. They are rarely invited to become really engaged in a study. The result is that, all too often, they lose interest or get fed up with inconveniences and drop out of a study. Drop-out rates run as high as 40% in some studies, meaning a significant loss of money and effort on the part of sponsors and investigators, as well as the potential loss of a medication that could help other patients.
It’s time for a change.
“We can’t continue to treat clinical trial participants like they are ‘data cows,’ just sitting there, waiting for us to extract their data,” says Jeff Lee, CEO of mProve Health, a Bracket company. “We need to make sure they are also getting value from taking part in a study. We need to treat them as our partners.”
One way to do that, he said, is to integrate the power of mobile communications into study patient activities.
Disrupting Clinical Research
“Mobile communications are revolutionizing all kinds of fields,” says Lee. “Airbnb is disrupting hospitality. Uber is disrupting transportation. Mobile stands ready to materially transform the patient experience and clinical research. People look at their phones hundreds of times a day. That gives us an opportunity to be present with a patient in ways that never existed before.” Interacting with study patients via mobile apps, he says, can transform the patient experience.
With today’s mobile technology, clinical trial sponsors and investigators have innumerable ways to connect with patients and collect data. A study-specific mobile app can include medication reminders and trackers, surveys, electronic diaries, activity trackers, educational materials, and secure ways to communicate with study staff. Study apps and wearable devices can also collect biometric data such as sleep, stress levels, exercise, patient location, levels of screen time and social interaction, changes in voice and more. Most ideal is a mobile solution that allows patients to have one touchpoint for all study-related activities.
Studies have shown that better mobile communication with study participants, primarily through messages that guide the patient through their study with reminders and study-specific instructions and content, can significantly increase patient compliance and retention rates. In one clinical trial, patients who used Bracket’s mobile patient engagement solution and received text message reminders were 80% less likely to drop out of the study, compared to those who did not use the app. Another found that those who used the app were 50% more likely to complete a study, reducing study costs by $4.8 million.
Personalization is Key
A one-size app does not fit all, however. “It’s important to let patients choose how they want to get information,” notes Mary Beth Schoening, digital strategist and co-founder of Behavioral Health Innovators. Some patients prefer to watch educational videos, while others prefer to read background materials. Some want to communicate by email, while others prefer text messages.
In addition, when patients are able to see their data on the app, it’s important to provide them with insights into their results, not just the raw data, says Schoening. For example, an app might record several days of little sleep. Rather than simply noting the fewer hours, a well-designed app would also identify the possible triggering events, such as a high stress level or social isolation. (Of course, giving patients immediate feedback needs to be done in compliance with the clinical trial’s goals; a patient who does not see improvement might suspect they are getting a placebo, leading them to drop out.)
Apps Tame the Chaos
“Apps can also tame the chaos of technology,” adds Lee. Patients who join a study are often overwhelmed with communication from several parties: home health nurses, transportation providers, payment and reimbursement vendors, and lab pickup courier services, he says. The best option is to combine all of those facets into a single study-specific app.
“Using a single mobile hub makes it easier to fulfill study commitments on time and correctly,” says Lee. “It also gives patients a tailored study-specific program that makes them feel important and connected to the study. Real-time data transfer between the people involved in a study opens the lines of communication, and as a result, builds the patient’s trust in both the study process and their care team.”
Many study participants would also like to have access to their own data, to share it with their personal doctors, says Schoening. “It shouldn’t be a one-way flow of data.”
“It’s all about making sure the patient has an outstanding experience, and that they feel confident and empowered in their participation in the study,” says Lee.
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Next up: Part II of the Tech Success series--How mobile apps can increase medication adherence.