Lisa Bance co-wrote this blog post with Kristyn Feldman.shutterstock_659129470.jpg

This is the third post in a four-part series examining patient centricity within R&D.

As drug development continues to grow more expensive and complex, and as patients expect to be more involved and empowered throughout the healthcare system, pharmaceutical companies are seeing the value in partnering with patients throughout the R&D process. The journey begins with building an understanding of and empathy for today’s patients, and then uncovering and meeting their needs. The third step is to hone in on how you connect with patients to increase the effectiveness of your communications.

Though it’s easier than ever in today’s digital era to stay connected to the things that matter most, connecting to patients in clinical trials still has its challenges. However, to ensure that drug development is increasingly patient-centric, the pharmaceutical industry must connect with patients not just before or after, but throughout trials.

One way to connect with patients involves gathering direct feedback and capturing remote data from patients outside of traditional doctors’ visits. Recently, the rise of digital and mobile health solutions has allowed more companies to embrace technology to connect with patients during trials. For example, AstraZeneca is currently evaluating a mobile app, patient web portal and Bluetooth-connected inhaler to support primary care patients with COPD. The company is testing this technologically driven disease management support service, called “Me & My COPD,” to assess its effect on unplanned hospital admissions.

Mobile apps and adherence monitors aren’t the only way to connect to patients. Remote patient monitoring using wearable sensors and activity trackers will be the wave of the future. In fact, technological advancements have enabled reliable and convenient methods to remotely deliver continuous and real-time physiological observations to clinicians. One such study is being conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to test how a combination of technology and home-based care could be used to treat patients who otherwise would have been admitted into the hospital. After being seen in the emergency room, patients are sent home with wearable, lightweight biosensor patches that wirelessly relay data, including vital signs and step counts, to their doctors. Patients receive a tablet that enables direct communication with their doctors, and they also receive daily at-home care. For pharma, the key will be using technology to help improve the patient experience, such as employing a device to monitor adherence rates in clinical trials.

Similarly, Pfizer is collaborating with IBM and Takeda is collaborating with Koneksa Health to develop remote-monitoring and real-world data collection methods for clinical trials and beyond. Solutions like these will improve patient convenience during clinical trials and standard care, and significantly reduce trial costs and healthcare expenses such as unnecessary hospital visits and other preventable episodes of care. 


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Another way to ensure that patients stay connected is to create patient-friendly communication channels for prospective, current and former trial participants. Patients are more informed than ever, and they’re constantly seeking new options and up-to-date, transparent data and opportunities. To reach prospective participants, Sanofi has partnered with online patient network PatientsLikeMe to match patients to trials, and the biopharma company has also partnered with the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP) to raise awareness and educate patients about the research process.

Meghan McKenzie, Genentech’s associate director and senior clinical program lead, recently told Applied Clinical Trials about an online portal that’s used for patient updates and information dissemination in current trials. “We’re using this platform in a non-interventional trial because we want to retain patients in the trial and want to give them something back for their participation,” she told the publication. In another complex trial for a rare disease indication, Genentech was using the platform to thank patients, provide information on study procedures and share staff interviews, she said.

Once a study concludes, patients are often left wondering what happened to their data and the treatment being tested. Companies like Pfizer have teamed up with CISCRP to solve this problem and provide participants with trial results in easily understood and non-technical language (where possible, based on local regulations). Pfizer also has embraced the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Blue Button” technology, which supplies trial participants with an electronic record of the medical information gathered in a study and enables the integration of electronic medical records. Trial results and the Blue Button data are available through PfizerLink, an online network for clinical trial alumni.

However, not all digital solutions are created equal. At the 2017 Drug Information Association (DIA) global annual meeting, several speakers shared cautionary tales about effectively integrating technology into clinical trials. Abbe Steel, the CEO of HealthiVibe, described a dermatology-related trial that provided free wireless activity trackers to all patients at enrollment. Surprisingly, and contrary to the trial sponsors’ expectations, patients declined participation. While the trial team thought that they were providing a desirable convenience to patients, they learned that the devices irritated patients’ skin. The side effect discouraged patients from participating, as the device’s use was required for inclusion in the trial—highlighting the need for trial teams to understand their patients and provide trial solutions that truly meet their needs. For example, the team could have amended the trial protocol to include a different brand of wireless activity trackers that didn’t irritate the participants’ skin.

Through newly formed industry partnerships and emerging digital and mobile health capabilities, pharmaceutical companies are beginning to make better connections with patients throughout the drug development process. Identifying and meeting patient needs in the clinical trial setting and beyond is part of the evolution to a patient-centric mindset.

Stay tuned for the final installment in this blog series, in which we’ll outline the fourth pillar of patient centricity within R&D. Did you miss the first or second installment? Read them here.

Topics: patient centricity in R&D, Patient Engagement, patient centricity, R&D, drug development, clinical trials, meet patient needs, Big Pharma, medical technology, Analytics