Aug 16, 2021
When I started out in the clinical research field seven years ago, I remember other site coordinators talking about how the industry has changed. How they used to sift through paper charts to find patient details. At that time, the industry had moved on to electronic records, but if we fast-forward to today, there are artificial intelligence technologies out there that can data mine so much more efficiently. It’s fascinating to observe the pace of change that has happened in the industry in such a short space of time.
During the pandemic, we witnessed a proliferation of new technology adoption by sites, especially with the rise of telemedicine and the need for new ways to reach out to patients to educate them on the clinical trials process. When our teams initially switched from in-person to virtual, the adoption of telemedicine seemed to happen overnight. Patient visits were being done remotely or using hybrid models. We even had patients driving by and sticking their arms out of car windows to get their bloodwork done! We had to quickly adapt, keep our heads above water and ride the wave of change.
In my role, one of my main objectives is to get buy-in for new technologies - which can be challenging to say the least. I work at the largest network of fully owned and integrated research sites in Canada, with 23 clinical research sites across the country. Everyone, from the site manager to the physician, needs to be onboarded and see the end goal of how this technology can help us in the long run. It’s no exaggeration to say that our site staff interact with a large amount of technology on a daily basis. From electronic data capture, to medical records, to protocol wearable sensors; the list goes on and on. Introducing something new into the mix needs a very strong use case.
One thing we’ve found helpful to mitigate the challenge is to set up power users. This is a “bottom-up” rather than “top-down” approach. Having eyes and ears on the ground means that we can get feedback from our users, be it good or bad. There can be resistance to change. People get comfortable with the system that they’re using and with the way they’ve always done things, especially if they’ve worked in the industry for a long time.
We’ve found that the “change resistance” is lower with proper training and onboarding. The “power-user” approach is a way of helping staff feel more comfortable in the new environment as they become part of the process, such as choosing the vendor and giving feedback.
Another way to ensure staff don’t face unnecessary hurdles when adopting new technology is to make the right choice in the first place. Because telemedicine and remote work have become so prevalent in the last year and a half, ease of use from multiple locations is key. Our physicians, monitors and sponsoring companies often complete tasks remotely, so working with technology platforms that allow for this means we can ensure high quality. For example, if an investigator is on site just once a week, he or she can still keep up with reviews and sign offs on a daily basis instead of just once a week.
When it comes to choosing the right partner, getting the right fit from the start makes for a much smoother process. Feedback plays a big role in our choice; we like to reach out to other clinical research sites to get an understanding of how the platform has performed in real life, rather than just listen to the sales pitch. And customer service is also important. We need to know that if there are problems, they can be solved quickly and efficiently.
Any technology that can be used intuitively and requires minimal training is ideal. Real-time communication is also important for us. If we look at Teckro’s platform, we can see that not only can it be used without huge time investment of staff training, but it also offers the high value we seek out. Instead of physical paper protocols, staff can communicate in real time and the protocol can be accessed and referenced on the spot. This type of intuitive-to-use platform is what we look for when we are seeking out new technology partners.
Over the last few years we’ve seen a huge shift towards a patient-focused approach in clinical research. In the fast-paced world of clinical research, this shift is likely to speed up in the years ahead. Adapting by leveraging new technology and seeking out the right partners will be a priority for our team in order to accommodate this shift. In the meantime, I can only speculate on what other challenges will arise in this ever-changing industry, but one thing’s for sure: the variety and excitement of working in clinical research means there’s never a dull day!
Lydia is joining Malia Lewin in the panel discussion "Enabling Sites for Outcomes: Fundamental Principles for Today’s Clinical Trials" on September 14. Join us as we discuss how study stakeholders - patients, sponsors, investigators and staff - benefit from the efficiency, transparency, and visibility that technology offers.