MedCity Influencers, BioPharma

Hearing is believing in clinical trials

The direct recording and analysis of voice ensures that a more diverse range of patients is represented in clinical trials. This is crucial for effective therapeutic outcomes.

Patient recruitment and retention remain significant challenges for clinical trials, despite billions spent every year by the pharmaceutical industry. According to Clinical Leader, the statistics are grim: 85% of clinical trials fail to retain enough patients; 80% fail to finish on time; 30% of patients drop out; over 66% of sites fail to meet enrollment quotas; up to 50% of trial sites enroll only one or no patients at all.

Patients from diverse populations and disenfranchised minorities are affected the most, having to endure everything from implicit bias in the healthcare system to language and communication hurdles to technological limitations. These obstacles increase hesitancy and decrease motivation, significantly mounting trial costs and hassle, and potentially delaying vital new drugs and novel therapeutics.

The implications cascade across the entire life cycle of pharma brands. Unable to peer deeply into the hearts and minds of patients, the industry flies blind and public health suffers. For example, a clinical trial may prove successful, yet the drug receives limited adoption; or a promising candidate may be rejected based on a side effect profile patients would nonetheless tolerate – had the researchers only asked.

Patient-centricity goes pre-launch

Largely thanks to the rise of social media, the ePatient Movement has infused the industry with a patient-centric approach that puts the healthcare system end-user front and center. Applied to clinical trials, the goal is to boost recruitment and retention with heightened sensitivity to patient needs and expectations. Trial sponsors, patient coordinators, and CROs providing individualized support have stepped up.

The government has also recognized the need and acted. The Cares Act recently issued by Congress, and new guidance from the FDA have ignited fresh approaches to patient-focused drug development (PFDD).

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Obstacles to improve patient awareness nonetheless persist, including a fragmented global market with varied regulatory standards, and resistant company leadership overseeing limited cross-functional teams.

Despite these hurdles, significant advances continue to be made, many of them accelerated by the global pandemic. Due to multiple factors such as social distancing, travel restrictions, and concerns over the immunocompromised, 76% of clinical respondents to an Oracle study said they increased the adoption of decentralized methodologies that rely heavily on digital communications and tech innovation.

“Pharma is listening”: The rise of voice-driven insights 

The future points to a creative combination of innovative tech adoption, remote patient connectivity, and enhanced support services. Personalized, empathetic relationships between company, clinician, and patient have become prerequisites to ensure improved recruitment and retention, and optimized trial design. But the missing link has been figuring out how to collect, analyze, and share patient perspectives.

Traditional approaches to obtaining patient perspectives are often time-consuming and expensive and tend to alienate and ignore already disenfranchised communities. Quantitative surveys, for example, anonymize and dehumanize the subject, while qualitative approaches such as focus groups can exhibit implicit biases and intimidate diverse patient populations already stigmatized and discriminated against by the healthcare system.

More personalized methods, such as phone interviews, partnering with advocacy groups, convening patient advisory boards, and relying on internal teams can probe deeper, but their execution can be cumbersome, and their results limited. A new, refreshing, and convenient approach beckons that empowers each patient with the ability and eagerness to candidly share what’s on their mind – and that approach is voice technology.

How voice tech is transforming clinical trials

Savvy next-generation market researchers utilize many of the tools of Big Tech, including voice response, to streamline processes and empower diverse patients. After all, everyone has a phone, and talking is the most natural thing people do. Why rely on inhuman surveys and intimidating focus groups when patients of all backgrounds can’t wait to express themselves – if only they were encouraged and enabled to do so.

Imagine a patient receiving an invitation to provide their perspectives on their own device. Stimuli and questions are provided, open-ended voice responses are encouraged, and patients can participate when convenient to them. Their voice recordings are then analyzed using a combination of machine learning and human linguistic expertise, and the results are shared with the study sponsor through dynamic reports that highlight actionable recommendations for clinical trial optimization.

Achieving a new era in PFDD demands empowering patients from all backgrounds, communities, and walks of life to inform clinicians and researchers in the design and implementation of clinical trials. The goal is to better understand patient needs at each touchpoint, thereby optimizing recruitment and improving retention. Pleased and assured patients participate; alienated and ignored patients withdraw.

Leveling the playing field: Inclusion through technology

Listen to the real voices of patients as they describe their condition through analogy and storytelling, and you’ll get a sense of how market research can be democratized. Comfortably and candidly sharing by merely talking into their own phones, thousands of patients from diverse backgrounds are speaking, and their thoughts, feelings, and often strong opinions are finally being listened to and often followed.

The results have optimized clinical trial design, recruitment, retention, and each subsequent step of drug development and beyond. Every need from nomenclature to naming, branding to messaging, reimbursement to patient support, and relationship management programs have benefited from being able to collect, analyze, and report on patient insights that suggest actionable recommendations.

By improving the patient’s clinical trial experience, expedited and effective drug development processes bring better treatments to market faster. And thanks to voice response technology, pharma has gained unprecedented access into the hearts and minds of patients across numerous disease states, and from previously neglected communities. By turning market research into a digital service, we all win.

Photo credit: iNueng, Getty Images

Fabio Gratton, Co-Founder and CEO of inVibe, a division of THREAD, is a digital health entrepreneur. For over two decades he has adapted his early experience as a Hollywood scriptwriter with innate acumen in science and data to redefine how healthcare companies tell patient stories through technology. Of his many Fortune 5000 ventures, inVibe has transformed market research by enabling brands to supplement their efforts with flexible, scalable, and impactful voice-driven insights.

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