The Future of Clinical Trials, Patient Engagement, and Technology

by Dan McDonald
Future of clinical trials graphic

Clinical trial recruitment and patient engagement practices have evolved and so has clinical trial technology.

What does the future look like?

I recently spoke with Matthew Stumm, founder and president of the Boston-based patient recruitment agency Stark / Raving Health.

I’ve known Matt for many years, and it’s always fun to talk shop with him, because he has seen the long-term evolution of patient recruitment in the clinical trials space, from raw marketing-based patient recruitment to a much more robust and multi-faceted area of specialization.

Plus, Matt is a Boston guy like me, so if we drop our Rs and use some local slang, we still understand each other.



It’s No Longer About Making a Case for Patient Recruitment

Matt highlighted what separates yesterday’s trials from today’s:

There has been a huge adoption shift from the past 1-15 years. When I started out, it was a question of whether or not we would do patient recruitment, and now it’s a question of how we are going to do patient recruitment.

We have both seen a long-term evolution with regard to the issue of delayed enrollment of clinical trials. In the early 2000s, most projects were rescue situations.

Today, large sponsors and CROs have specialized functions and teams focused on proactive approaches to driving enrollment and retention of study volunteers.”

The Patient is a Partner

Another observation we made is the growth in the importance of recognizing patients as critical study partners – and most importantly – the increase in buy-in that we are getting in the design and execution of clinical trials.

This is a significant sea change from 20 years ago.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve seen in the past five to seven years, in the post-marketing part of advertising for the actual approved drug, you’re seeing an acknowledgment of the people who participated in the trial being included in the advertising, which to me is amazing, and was never done before,”  Matt said.

“That’s a product of the big push that’s happening here and within our world of patient recruitment of really making patients the center of the reason why clinical research is successful. Not only because of the researchers and the scientists and the sponsors… but without their participation, a lot of this just wouldn’t be happening.”

And while it is good to see this post-trial recognition, I mentioned the importance of thanking participants while they are in the trial.

Appreciation is a valid retention tool. It might come as a surprise, but this appreciation doesn’t happen often enough.

Clinical Trial Technology

The clinical trials industry has always used technology, sometimes with hesitancy, but the industry has matured and changes are accelerating.

I see the appetite for that being much stronger, to try new things,”  Matt said.

The widespread adoption of the internet, global smartphone usage, bandwidth improvements, and general acceptance of these technologies in daily life have proved invaluable in raising awareness about clinical trials.

Social media, paid search, and other forms of pay-per-click advertisement channels have allowed the industry to filter and direct messaging about clinical trials to individuals with a higher likelihood of matching the trial target criteria.

This means more meaningful content for the end user, more effective channeling of referrals, and faster enrollment. It has also come with metrics that tell a story right through to prescreening and sometimes beyond, right into randomization.

As such, campaigns are more effective and dollars can be shifted along the way to always ensure that return on investment is optimized.

Artificial Intelligence: A Seismic Shift in Clinical Trial Technology

Today, almost every discussion about technology includes artificial intelligence, and Matt said it cannot be overlooked.

We’re at the very early stages of it, but I think it may come as a surprise to a lot of people in patient recruitment that artificial intelligence has been used in advertising and marketing for patient outreach for a number of years, just at a different scale,” Matt said.

I think we’re at the cusp of really starting to break through,” he said. “There’s going to be a seismic shift in the next five years, just considering the adoption rate of how this industry takes on new technology. You’ll be seeing real-time bidding, you’ll see predictive analytics through advertising; I think there’s a lot of exciting things coming down the pipeline.”

But with artificial intelligence comes warnings.

My view, I think we have to have a lot of caution and a lot of oversight in what we’re doing to make sure that we’re protecting privacy, transparency, in how we’re collecting data,” Matt said.

I agree. Technology is a force, and our industry must never lose sight of putting the patient first.

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