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mHealth: Improving Patient Recruitment, Retention and Engagement in Clinical Trials



Sponsors must prioritize patient engagement throughout the course of the study in order to fully support each patient (and family caregiver) and minimize patient dropout.

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December 13, 2016 | by Sarah Hand, M.Sc.

Patients participating in clinical trials are demanding – and are deserving of – more information before they even commit to enrolling in a particular study. And in order to retain trial patients, sponsors must prioritize patient engagement throughout the course of the study in order to fully support each patient (and family caregiver) and minimize patient dropout.

Historically, study sites have provided patients with study information in the form of handouts and brochures in an effort to retain study participants. But in an age where smartphones are ubiquitous – with high penetration rates among affluent and less-developed nations, alike – hard-copy information is no longer enough.

mHealth technologies – namely mobile apps – have been on the rise in the clinical trials industry for the past few years. But in an industry known to be relatively cautious when it comes to adopting new technology, the early days of mHealth saw few early adopters.

“We first announced our apps back in 2012, and during that time only a couple of sponsors actually wanted to be the first people to dip a ‘toe in the water,’ so to speak,” said Matt Kibby, President, BBK Worldwide, a patient recruitment and engagement technology firm. “As we're working towards the final quarter of 2016, this type of activity has become such a common element of how people are expected to access information.”

While Kibby admits that the most obvious application of mHealth technologies is in improving the patient and caregiver experience during clinical trials, he explains that the benefits extend beyond this facet. Clinical Research Associates (CRAs) and other stakeholders involved in the clinical trial can use mHealth apps to ensure consistent pre-screening on a site-by-site and country-by-country basis.

Study sponsors who were early adopters of this technology may have experienced a competitive advantage, however Kibby says they also absorbed the bulk of the risk. Those innovative companies looking to recruit patients who were most comfortable with mobile technologies paved the way for other study sponsors to apply mHealth technologies to their clinical trials.

“The more information that somebody has going into a trial, the more likely they are to stay retained in that trial,” said Kibby. “mHealth technologies are like an end-to-end spectrum of patient to site connectivity that’s really been heretofore unavailable in clinical trials.”

The best clinical trials apps include multiple levels of patient engagement. At their most basic level, these apps should help patients coordinate their participation in the trial by providing easy access to study appointment logistics, like appointment times and visit locations, and a better connection with the study coordinators.

The addition of polling questions allowing patients to give feedback on their clinical trial experience, and providing them with a summary of their participation, can greatly enhance patient engagement in the study. But Kibby warns that setting up the app is just the beginning.

“Content is king,” said Kibby. “Having someone download an app is just the first step. Clinical trial participation can take up six months to two years of a person’s life, so the app must contain a constant, relevant and refreshing set of information that engages them – and helps them – throughout the study period.”

Of course, this content comes at a price, and providing continual support and promotion for the app is not a trivial investment – though the cost of losing a study patient comes at a big price too. Still, Kibby says that companies that are willing to put the time and effort into using mHealth apps have the potential to be rewarded with some better-quality data.

Despite its definite application potential in a number of clinical trials, there are some studies for which mHealth apps may be inappropriate. In particular, clinical trials involving recruitment of older patients may see more success utilizing traditional methods, as opposed to promoting an app. While smartphone use amongst older adults continues to rise – in 2015, 54 percent of those ages 50 to 65 owned a smartphone – younger adults may have a higher level of comfort when using mobile apps.

As a leading patient recruitment and retention company, BBK Worldwide works with study sponsors who conduct trials involving patients from all age groups. With data from pediatric clinical trials all the way up to geriatric patient populations, Kibby and his team are able to advise companies on the most effective ways to improve patient engagement.

For more on mHealth and its application throughout the clinical trials process, watch BBK Worldwide’s webinar.

Are you using mobile apps to improve patient retention and engagement during clinical studies? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Keywords: mHealth, Patient Engagement, Clinical Trials



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