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How Voice Response Technology Can Aid Clinical Trials

Fabio GrattonChief Experience Officer

The Elephant In The Drug Development Room

Clinical trials are the FDA-mandated process by which pharmaceutical companies confirm that the efficacy and safety of their new drugs make them worthy of government approval, then distribution to the public through the healthcare system.

One of the major “hidden costs” of this laborious, time-consuming, and expensive drug development process is patient recruitment for these clinical trials, which accounts for nearly $2 billion on top of the nearly $3 billion spent on drug research.

Despite such astronomical expenses, data from the Center for Information and Study of Clinical Trial Participation (CISCRP) reveals that more than half of these studies fail to meet their recruitment quotas, and nearly a third of patients drop out before trial completion.

Why the gap between spending and impact? Patient awareness, inconvenience, and rationale remain limited, debilitating, and confusing. It seems pharma companies often design clinical trials without first talking to patients and determining their needs and expectations.

The opportunity costs and implications of pharma not sufficiently listening to patients are significant. The implications reverberate throughout the entire drug development process and cascade into significant delays, rising costs and compromised therapeutics.

Not knowing how patients feel about potential side effects, for example, an otherwise promising drug can make it to market yet receive limited adoption. Conversely, another drug might never make it to launch yet have a safety profile patients tolerate—if only they’d been asked.

Patient-Centricity And The Evolution of Clinical Trials

The obvious solution to many of these clinical trial patient recruitment and retention problems is improved market research and communication. Better understanding what makes patients tick, and opening up dialogue with them, are clearly the paths forward.

The healthcare industry—and the government—are not only aware but have taken effective action. For starters, clinical trial sponsors and the organizations responsible for clinical research (CROs) are already providing patient support and personalized help.

Congress has also formally acted, passing the Cares Act into law, along with additional FDA guidance. This has further fueled and systematized the “patient-focused drug development” (PFDD) movement, all specifically designed to better inform and empower researchers with insights.

Another innovation already improving patient recruitment and retention is the decentralization of clinical trials through the integration of digital management and communications. Slowly building momentum since 2011, “DCTs” experienced a growth rate of more than 77% in 2020.

As the pandemic wanes into an endemic and hopefully soon a “nodemic,” a hybrid approach to clinical trials combining physical locations with virtual engagement will become the norm, ultimately ensuring the necessary privacy, safety, and compliance.

Cutting-edge tech adoption, remote patient connectivity, and enhanced support services with personalized, empathetic relationships between pharma, clinicians, and patients are key. But how can pharma also step up in its ability to actively listen and insightfully respond?

NextGen Patient Market Research

The good news is that patients participating in clinical trials are already talking, and clinicians to a greater or lesser extent are listening. Feelings about diseases, treatments and the trial designs themselves are often discussed—yet rarely used to optimize.

Life sciences companies use traditional quantitative and qualitative market research methods to systematize this data, along with gaining patient insights from phone interviews, partnering with advocacy groups, ad boards and the experience of brand teams.

Meanwhile, every touchpoint of the drug development process could benefit from a more direct and personal approach to listening to patients. One such approach is voice response, similar to technology already used by Big Tech for consumers, such as Amazon.

Collecting recorded voice responses to open-ended questions can capture every nuance of a patient’s cognitive and emotional state. How better to supplement the limited data of generic surveys and behind-the-glass intimidation than by simply listening?

Megabytes of patient voice recordings can then be analyzed with a hybrid of automated and human-powered linguistics. Stored in a dynamic database uniquely capable of answering secondary and tertiary queries, these patient voices are gold for clinicians.

The goal is actionable intelligence to improve clinical trial design, ultimately boosting recruitment and retention. Insights and recommendations can be shared through a dynamic dashboard to help clinical researchers better understand patient expectations.

Proven Solutions And A Path Forward

Thanks to voice response and other patient-centric market research and communications technologies, patients are speaking more than ever before, and the life sciences industry is not only listening, but incorporating their recommendations.

Numerous academic researchers, such as these cases in the cardiovascular space, have found that this seems to work. By listening to patients, clinical studies have been designed to be more accessible, convenient, health-literate and simple.

The great news is that patients are speaking, and the pharmaceutical industry is at long last actively listening. Trends that accelerated decentralization and digitization of clinical trials throughout the pandemic continue and are now here to stay.

The convergence of industry evolution, government guidance and astonishing technology has created a perfect storm for increasingly patient-centric drug development. Everyone benefits from improved patient involvement and the implications of better therapeutics.

Leading the charge is voice response, a technology that’s long overdue. But Big Tech alone won’t humanize healthcare—only humans can do that. Hopefully, by listening to people better, the industry will become better at answering the calls of public health.

This article was originally published by Forbes.