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What will it take to improve recruitment for clinical trials?

Whether clinical trial travel requires a short rideshare trip or a flight halfway across the world, the key to keeping participants enrolled and engaged is to make it as convenient as possible for the patient.

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As medicine becomes more precise, it means clinical trials often require recruiting from smaller, and more specific patient pools. While precision medicine can mean incredible advancement and efficacy of new therapies, it also increases the likelihood that travel will be involved. Travel can be a challenge for patients —often requiring car services, trains, or even flights, not to mention the potential to incur upfront costs that can range from a slight financial inconvenience to amounts large enough to prevent participation completely.

Whether clinical trial travel requires a short rideshare trip or a flight halfway across the world, the key to keeping participants enrolled and engaged is to make it as convenient as possible for the patient. Key facets of patient convenience include no-hassle travel coordination that accommodates any particular set of needs, elimination of upfront costs where possible and fast and easy reimbursement for any other expenses that might be incurred.  

The number of registered studies has increased dramatically over the last decade, including a significant rise in the number of studies being conducted internationally.

As the number of trials continues to grow and expand across the globe, more people are volunteering to participate. This is great news for life science and for patients seeking treatment, but willingness to participate often means an element of travel, whether it’s 50 miles to the nearest large city, 3,000 miles cross country or even international travel. As the distance expands, so should the movement towards finding ways to make the experience more convenient for patients. 

Reimbursement matters

There are various types of costs associated with participating in a trial. Oftentimes participants aren’t aware of the upfront costs until they’ve already been enrolled in the study and begin to participate – only to quickly realize they are not financially able to complete the trial requirements and are forced to drop out. Some common examples of expenses are hotel accommodations, food and heavy transportation costs which can include flights, car services, gas, tolls, parking, etc.  In addition, costs often not accounted for include lost wages, childcare and even pet care. All of these expenses can significantly impact a patient’s ability to participate in a clinical study. 

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Many trial sponsors do reimburse patients for key costs incurred when participating in a trial. However, just as important as getting compensated is the method and timeliness of payment. What’s critical for these patients is ensuring that these upfront costs don’t hinder their participation. Having to wait weeks or months for checks to arrive can be the difference between a patient who is able to participate and one who cannot. As a result, some sites and patients have spoken out in favor of reloadable debit cards, which enable immediate reimbursement to eliminate financial burden. For some patients who are critically ill and are out of work, every dollar counts and receiving their reimbursement quickly and easily is paramount. 

Rideshare in clinical trials

While reimbursement for gas, a taxi, parking, tolls, etc. is wonderful, sometimes the best option a trial can offer is eliminating the need for reimbursement altogether. Recently, there has been a move towards offering rideshare transportation options for patientsthat would allow sites to control both travel bookings and additional patient reimbursements via the same system. The rides can be pre-arranged by the site and offer the highest level of convenience for participants while removing out-of-pocket costs. 

In addition to making travel easier on trial participants through a third-party technology, sites and sponsors who employ rideshare for their studies are saving money and gaining deeper financial visibility. 

Programs that have implemented pre-paid participant reimbursement for trial-related expenses along with personalized travel arrangement (travel and lodging) have revealed a positive impact on patient enrollment and retention. In fact, these programs provide access to a broader and more diverse population, opening the opportunity for patients from varying socioeconomic backgrounds and locations to participate. 

There are many considerations to be accounted for in planning a clinical trial and reimbursements and travel arrangement should be among them. A clinical trial does not happen without the patient. By improving a patient’s experience, sites and sponsors can have a measurable impact on the success of their study. With an increased focus on patient-centric travel and payments, recruitment and retention can become less of a barrier to bringing new medications and treatments to market.

Picture: drante, Getty Images