A few years ago, I attended my brother's white coat ceremony for incoming medical students at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), now Rutgers Medical School. The white coat ceremony contains much of the same pomp and circumstance of a college graduation; students march into a large white tent wearing their newly acquired white coats and are greeted by an array of family, friends, and faculty. The keynote speaker, the dean of students at the time, began her address by outlining the challenging, yet critical path that lay ahead.
What stands out to me all these years later was the dean's emphasis on the patient experience. She instructed her incoming class that when interacting with their future patients, they must treat the person not the disease; to be mindful of their needs and feelings, not just their symptoms. After all, Hippocrates himself notably said roughly 2,400 years ago, “It is more important to know what sort of person has the disease than what sort of disease a person has.” Embracing this sentiment only helps to strengthen and foster the therapeutic relationship, she explained.
As a patient recruitment specialist at BBK Worldwide, I am often reminded of this humanistic approach to medicine and how placing an emphasis on the patient experience could be the key to retaining participants in a particular study. In the world of clinical trials, the patient’s ability to discontinue in favor of the standard of care heightens the need to foster trust and understanding. With this speech in mind, I have compiled a short list of my favorite patient-centered solutions that may keep patients engaged and feeling appreciated over the lifespan of a study:
Embrace advocacy: Raising awareness of a clinical trial within the advocacy community goes a long way when trying to foster the relationship between patients and investigators. Advocacy groups are often leaned on to provide direction over the course of an illness. It is one thing to tell a patient that site staff will provide them with the care they are seeking; it is an entirely different experience when a patient is directed towards a clinical trial by community leaders and disease advocates. Taking this avenue towards recruitment and retention provides patients with the additional tier of support they may need to make the decision to join a clinical trial and carry that support through participation.
Don’t fear technology: I do not claim to be as tech savvy as many of the other BBK bloggers, however, in my time with BBK, I have experienced how several of BBK's mobile innovations provide patients with the type of holistic support that focus not just on treating a disease, but on tending to the needs of the participant. Health Info Gizmo is a mobile app that provides an entire network of information and resources, giving patients 24 / 7 access to both study specifics, as well as links to relevant advocacy groups. With an emphasis on convenience, Health Info Gizmo is a dynamic resource that connects participants to a wealth of knowledge and resources while reducing any anxiety they may feel regarding study participation.
Simplify participation: Understanding the experience of the patient is not limited to what goes on within the walls of the study site. Reducing the mental strain associated with study participation can mean the world to patients. One easy way to reduce this strain is with a travel reimbursement program. With BBK’s Ready. Set. Go (RSG®) Card, patients are issued reloadable debit cards which can be used to make purchases globally wherever credit cards are accepted. This program is managed entirely online by site staff through BBK's study portal, TrialCentralNet (TCN®). Programs like the RSG Card not only simplify participation for patients, but create a closer knit study community by meeting the needs of individual patients.
Understanding how to fully support a patient over the course of a clinical trial is a major challenge to patient recruitment. It is not always clear at the onset of a study what elements of participation are going to cause the greatest hurdles to the patient. These recruitment and retention strategies are just a few of the many ways to show appreciation to your study participants, helping to avoid high rates of withdrawal and improve the quality of life of those driving your clinical trial.