Changing the Subject: Patient Retention and the Humanization of Medicine

Changing the Subject: Patient Retention and the Humanization of Medicine

By Rob Laurens on Wed, Aug 28, 2013 | 3 min read

R Laurens 3 web resized 600I was in the dentist’s office this morning, waiting my turn, leafing through a copy of Smithsonian magazine, the July-August 2013 issue. I came across a short piece on page 20 that got me thinking about a number of things – including clinical trial patient retention.

The one-page article basically sketches out how a Polish psychologist recently went to extraordinary lengths to learn the identity of a French patient who lost the ability to speak at age 30 – a patient who died more than 150 years ago. Without taking you through the entire story, the patient, upon his death, donated his brain, and that brain proved that the center of the human nervous system is not homogeneous, but rather that specific areas control specific functions. This contradicted mainstream scientific belief at the time, and thus proved to be a major milestone in the evolution of neuroscience.

When asked why he went to such lengths, the psychologist said, “A patient is not an object. Every person deserves respect.” He then went on to say that he saw the restoration of the identity of a patient who had contributed so significantly to science as a way to further humanize medicine – regardless of the fact that the patient lived more than a century ago.

To me, these sentiments are at the heart of patient retention. And, it’s an example of how mindsets can and do shift.

Here’s another example. There was a time when our industry most commonly referred to the individuals who participate in clinical trials as subjects, rather than patients. But today, other than in a protocol, I can’t tell you the last time I’ve encountered the term “subject” used by a sponsor, CRO, study site, or patient recruitment professional.

Just a change in vernacular? Maybe. But then again, words have weight. For me, this is a significant step in the humanization of medicine. Indeed, Bonnie A. Brescia, recently blogged about how the percentage of Americans who have participated in clinical trials has doubled since BBK first polled the country about it some 12 years ago (about when the term “subject” was in more common usage, in fact). It seems to me that, over the last couple of decades, there has been a significant shift in the perceived value of the study participant’s contribution to clinical R&D. Could this increase in participation be due, at least in part, to a shift in the mindset of the clinical R&D industry? The core tenet of effective patient retention is to help the patient feel a part of – rather than apart from – the study. The more recruitment and retention offerings evolve and improve, the more they bear out the veracity of this idea.

Makes you think, anyway, how a small idea can help create momentous change. Makes you wonder, too, what other small but potent ideas are taking root out there.

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Topics: Patient Retention, Patient Advocacy