Caitlin Clement|7/14/2022|3 min read

How Telehealth Is Aiding Clinical Trials

Researches are utilizing telehealth technology for decentralized clinical trials

lab technician smiling at the camera while using a microscope

As telehealth becomes more ubiquitous in delivering care, clinical trials and pharmaceutical researchers are leveraging its technologies to address common challenges. Tools like remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices and mobile friendly platforms are making it easier for researchers to perform decentralized clinical trials.

In this blog we’ll define what decentralized clinical trials are and cover how telehealth technology is aiding the future of clinical trials.

Defining Decentralized Clinical Trials (DCT)

A DCT is a clinical trial that is executed through telemedicine and mobile/local healthcare providers. In a fully decentralized trial, patient recruitment, the delivery and administration of study materials and the means of collecting research data all happen without in-person contact.

The tools utilized for DCT offer many advantages for researchers and are often already used in many drug approval clinical trials.

Improved recruiting and retention rates

The easier something is to do, the more likely somebody is to do it. This rings true with clinical trials as well. DCT’s offer both patients and researchers more flexibility when it comes to clinical trial participation. The ability for patients to track symptoms or any other data points right from their cell phone or laptop has aided in subject retention rates.

Additionally, we live in a fast paced world and it only seems to be getting faster. People are finding less and less time to be a part of clinical trials and that’s hurting recruitment. So, the logical next step is to bring the clinical trial to the patients themselves.

Telemedicine allows researchers and patients to communicate in real-time without having to commit to traveling to and from a physical location. It in turn lowers the amount of time and commitment a patient must invest, increasing their willingness to participate and ultimately improving the recruitment outcome.

More diverse study populations

Much like the rest of the telehealth industry, DCT enables researchers to access populations that are typically underrepresented in research and/or hard to reach. Virtual technology is cheaper and reduces barriers to participation like lengthy travel periods, language barriers, chronic conditions and financial constraints.

It also allows researchers to more accurately and directly target specific populations by broadening their access to them with easily accessible communication devices. Some of these tools include remote patient monitoring devices that can asynchronously communicate data from patient to provider/researcher.

Common Types of RPM Technology:

  • Weight scales

  • Wearables (Apple Watch, FitBit)

  • Pulse oximeters

  • Glucometer

  • Blood pressure monitors

  • Apnea monitors

  • Heart monitors

  • Specialized monitors for dementia and Parkinson’s disease

  • Breathing devices

  • Fetal monitors

These digitized tools may also allow for more objective methods of measuring pain, quality of life, functional status and cognitive function. Acquiring a better understanding of individual responses to treatments could potentially decrease trial sample sizes by developing individualized thresholds.

Decreased administrative costs

The ability for researchers and patients to fulfill a clinical trial without the need for in-person communication means fewer central research sites are needed. With a lack of research sites already a problem in the industry, telehealth and DCT bring a much needed reprieve.

Additionally, the use of the RPM devices and other innovative virtual care technology means fewer individual assessments, reduced variability of reporters, and potentially smaller studies. As a result, research teams may not need as many intermediaries and instead adopt partial or fully virtual functions.

A partial virtual intermediary is when there still needs to be some direct interaction with the patients. This could be as simple as a patient needing to enter daily details of medication side effects into a portal. Fully virtual is when no direct interaction is needed, such as a continuous glucose monitor transferring data in predetermined intervals to a research portal. Clinics can also utilize a hybrid approach and use one or both of these paired with some in-person care.

With burnout still a problem in most healthcare fields, smaller investigative teams could mean less clinician burnout without sacrificing important data collection. The efficiencies created with these innovative technologies allows for both the clinic and the patient to cut down on their costs. Putting the focus back into delivering quality research and data.

It’s still in its early stages

It’s important to clarify that there are some implementation costs, as with any investment, if you wish to integrate telehealth services into your clinical trials. Use of these devices often requires clinical validation and access to tech support. Research patients need to be able to ask questions and fix technology issues when they come up. The plus of a clinical site is that it can all be managed centrally.

Excellent cybersecurity is a must in any instance where electronic patient records (EHRs) are used. With telehealth technology, patients often interact with multiple providers who have their EHR systems. Ensuring you have a secure central database in which to house and integrate them is crucial.

Powering Clinical Trials

While there are risks with any investment, more and more research clinics are turning to telehealth services to help fill the gaps. That’s where we come in. OpenLoop partners with clinical trial teams across the country to match participants and researchers with our network of certified clinicians for supervision and approval throughout your virtual trials.Interested in what we can do for your organization? Get in touch here!

Our full suite of Telehealth Support Services include:

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