The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdown accelerated the adoption of decentralized clinical trials (DCTs). The number of trials with virtual and/or decentralized elements exceeded 1,000 in 2021 for the first time, according to GlobalData. That’s a 50 percent increase from 2020. GlobalData expects the number of site-less and/or virtual clinical trials to jump another 28 percent this year, potentially topping 1,400.
This presents a perfect opportunity for smaller and more rural practices to become involved in clinical research as technology and demand push the relocation of medical research away from large institutions and academic centers. With the right DCT technology and services, smaller practices can help their patients and contribute to health care research – all while increasing revenue. That’s a triple win.
Thanks to emerging technology and service providers, participation in clinical research is a treatment approach that can be offered in almost every clinic setting. It simply requires a little learning and change by the medical team.
I run a family medicine practice. The practice uses a new, cash-based reimbursement model called direct primary care (DPC). This model avoids the need to involve insurance companies or collect co-pays; patients pay a monthly membership fee.
DPC has several advantages, including its ability to remove insurance companies from the patient and physician dynamic, thereby streamlining care. But DPC also drives us to embrace unique care delivery options – such as cutting-edge treatments and care – that best fit the needs of our patients.
Over the years, we’ve integrated clinical trial activities into our office space, allocating roughly half our facility for traditional outpatient care and the other half for clinical trials. Keeping these separate allows patients to choose (without feeling pressured) whether clinical trials are a solution they’d like to embrace. Patients interested in clinical studies understand our office’s flow, making the process relatively seamless.
Smaller practices participating in clinical trials – even with a user-friendly, clinically integrated solution – do require some additional resources. The most important thing is to manage your workflow. In short, you don’t have to sign on to every clinical trial.
It’s also essential that small practices have reliable technology tools and support. To that end, finding a high-quality clinical research solution vendor with a team of virtual professionals to help manage much of the added workload must be a top priority for smaller practices seeking to offer clinical trials to their patients.
For health care professionals whose focus on a day-to-day basis is their patients, it can be quite gratifying to participate in a potentially significant research project. We all want to do our part to advance medical knowledge.
For more than four years, we has been working with a decentralized clinical research company whose platform allows our patients to participate in clinical trials. These types of clinic-based studies not only help patients but also offer unique care models that work well for practices like ours and contribute valuable medical research data that could fuel further breakthroughs.
Using technology and virtual support to keep our manpower costs low is the secret to making this model efficient. It has allowed us to provide highly efficient care for our patients. Our clinic has participated in numerous trials over the past few years, and there usually is a study going on here at any given time.
One trial that was eagerly embraced by our patients involved an at-home test for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). A study of this nature is extremely challenging because not many people want to publicly reveal their STD, even in a clinical setting. Offering at-home tests for STDs that are reliable and accurate while also helping us to educate patients is fantastic for empowering patients to take care of themselves. And it changed my role as a doctor from telling patients what to do to teaching them how to help themselves.
This clinical trial enabled us to screen about 300 patients. Not only were participants able to better understand the clinical research process, but many also learned that taking part in a clinical trial is medically rewarding. That has helped with future trial recruitment efforts.
In terms of clinical benefits to our patients, the at-home tests were a free or, in some cases, paid diagnosis. And for the 10 or 12 patients who tested positive for an STD, their participation in the study resulted in them beginning to receive treatment and lead a healthier life.
Technology tools and support are available today to help smaller practices participate in clinical trials. With a bit of research, planning, and commitment, every practice could be part of this growing trend that is benefiting patients, providers, and researchers.
Kirby Farnsworth is a family physician.
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