One App to Unite Them All: Unified Patient Engagement

On October 21st, I was honored to present at the 2016 Bioinformatics & Computational Biosciences Festival, Virtual Clinical Trials: Modernizing Comparative Studies, hosted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The event focused on the emerging model of less site-centric studies, and how tech is helping enable this new model. I spoke on an emerging issue resulting from too much of a good thing: patient engagement and retention services. As various patient engagement systems and vendors abound, clinical trial patients will need a central engagement hub to access all aspects of their study. We think it’s important to design that platform now.

Jeff Lee delivers a presentation on uniting the patient engagement experience.

Jeff Lee speaks at 2016 Bioinformatics & Computational Biosciences Festival, Virtual Clinical Trials: Modernizing Comparative Studies.

Following Patterns, Reading Signs

Are we borrowing trouble by fixing a problem that doesn’t exist? We don’t think so. The progress of technology follows some particular patterns we should take note of. In general, technological innovation follows a usage pattern that begins with a primitive, sometimes crude implementation. (Think sledding on cafeteria trays versus the advent of the snowboard.) The first to harness the new technology are niche providers. They become experts on this new technology and sell their services to clients while others slowly begin accommodating industry changes.

Likewise, the clinical trial industry is heading towards a new era. Less site-centric studies may become the norm as the clinical trial experience moves further and further online. A growing number of specialty companies offer services to engage and support the patient. They harness technologies in unique ways to provide patient payment systems, travel concierge services, access to home health nurses patient, and any number of services including our specialty: patient engagement and ePRO systems.

Come Together

While these technologies can and are revolutionizing the patient experience, their intense specification and their rough implementation leads to too many patient touchpoints. Patients may have to go to one app for daily diaries, another to arrange travel, and then to a website (or three) for reimbursement. Each of these technologies is vying for the patient’s attention, ultimately overwhelming the patient with a deluge of unintegrated, disparate services.

We believe that the solution is an app that unites this smorgasbord of technologies into a single patient-facing hub. This patient engagement hub should bring services to the patient with the tap of one button instead of ten, thus orienting themselves around the end user. For example, we developed an integration with Uber that will let patients request a ride to their site from inside our Trial Guide app. There is no separate touchpoint for travel reimbursement because the Trial Guide links to an expense account payable by the study sponsor. This beats opening one app to check your visit schedule, then opening a ridesharing app to request a ride, and having to juggle them both to find the right site address. All kinds of services—ePRO, retention, reimbursement, travel, gamification—should be collected in a central patient engagement hub that streamlines the patient’s experience and brings the number of touchpoints down.

Making it Happen

The concept is simple. The execution is less so. It is one thing to write the code to integrate digital services, but quite another to get disparate vendors to cooperate with each other. It can be hard for vendors to find the resources needed to pool their services in one place. That is why study sponsors and CROs will have to lead the charge toward a patient engagement hub. With the right incentive, vendors will integrate for the good of the patient.

It will be good for their bottom lines, too. For a corollary, just think of shopping at a department store versus separate specialty stops in different locations: as anyone who frequents Target knows, we often buy goods and services we didn’t know we needed when lots of options are presented in one venue. If a vendor offers their product in a hub that patients regularly visit, they are bound to garner more users. Cooperating with other companies is an inconvenience that will be well worth the effort once both patients and sponsors appreciate the ease of one-stop engagement.

See my full presentation here: https://videocast.nih.gov/Summary.asp?File=19951&bhcp=1