What matters more in a post-COVID-19 world: site visits or mobile apps? It’s a trick question, as I don’t think we’ll ever live in a “post-COVID-19” world. Whether we like it or not, the virus is here to stay. So, what are the long-term implications and opportunities?
During the pandemic, we collectively demonstrated how much we could lean into digital technologies. We used tech to visit our physicians, buy our food and, yes, participate in decentralized clinical trials (DCTs). The pandemic functioned as a global proof-of-concept, creating digital momentum that I hope we maintain.
But I don’t think an uptick in digitally enabled DCTs signals an end to in-person visits at clinical trial sites. Patients still feel more comfortable having these encounters; they’re critical both to recruitment and retention. I suggest that rather than trying to eliminate these visits, we aim to reduce their frequency.
For patients, reducing the number of required in-person visits helps minimize disruption to their day-to-day lives. Trim travel requirements and costs. Cut back on lost wages. Help makes studies more accessible to a broader patient population.
The downside of infrequent visits is that it becomes nearly impossible to accurately track symptomology, efficacy, general well-being, or even patient satisfaction with the trial overall. For these insights, a clinical trial must be a regular presence in patients’ lives – and digital tools make that possible.
To facilitate reducing the number of in-person visits and tracking of general patient well-being and overall trial satisfaction, there needs to be solid communication among all parties in the study. Participants, clinicians, etc., all need to have an in-depth understanding of how the technology works and is being used in the study. Only after understanding and trust are built between all parties involved in the trial will these digital tools truly work. Further, digital solutions shouldn’t aim to replace those in-person visits even by reducing their number; instead, they should aim to facilitate those connections virtually through easy-to-use embedded telehealth with the specific aim of offering face-to-face connection without physical site visits.
Moving on From the Pandemic
As we continue our journey through this COVID-19 world, let’s find the right balance of in-person visits and digital eCOA/ePRO tools. In-person visits provide critical touchpoints, while digital tools keep patients informed, engaged, connected, and compliant between in-person and face-to-face encounters.
There’s one important caveat here: eCOA/ePRO tools shouldn’t be intrusive, annoying, or time-consuming. Ideally, these tools should be a high-quality, engaging app in patients’ hands – more precisely, on their own smartphones. Ensure that the app is easy to install and even easier to use, including while offline. Make the experience as enticing as a social media platform and as fun and rewarding as a patient’s favorite smartphone game.
With that kind of eCOA/ePRO tool, patients will want to engage every day.
They also will be more likely to stay enrolled and compliant, becoming invested in their contributions to the trial. This digital engagement provides more frequent and accurate patient input for sites and sponsors. That input yields essential insights about the trial, including opportunities to address attrition and compliance risks proactively.
Does that kind of eCOA/ePRO app sound like an unattainable goal? It’s not. In fact, it’s available now from Datacubed Health. If you haven’t yet seen our app, please reach out. I would love to show you what we’ve created – and explore how it can help you strike the right physical-digital balance with your next trial. You can also view our quick demo video that displays how we do things differently.