The ongoing digital revolution in clinical trials has created a daunting new task for the sites conducting the research: managing all the technology required by their sponsor partners.
According to a recent Tufts Impact Report, 70% of investigative site staff believe that conducting clinical trials has become much more difficult over the last five years. The burden of technology in clinical trials is only increasing as the number of “e” tools proliferate. In fact, according to a Society for Clinical Research Sites survey, 84% of respondents used three or more CTMS platforms. Another recent survey found that 60% of sites polled reported using a total of at least 20 different systems daily.
With each study, staff are required to navigate not only multiple portals and websites but also keep track of the right contact at the sponsor or CRO, further adding to the complexity. They also have to securely maintain the appropriate login credentials for each website, adding another layer of time and effort required to manage these platforms. This can be overwhelming and take away from the time spent with study participants, reviewing protocol documentation, and conducting data entry. Ultimately, this administrative burden impacts the speed and success of the trial.
It’s become clear that the burden of technology in clinical trials is a significant issue for research sites. To address this challenge, the industry has created portals that consolidate links to study technologies.These solutions, sometimes known as site, study, technology, or single sign-on portals, aimed to make it easier for research sites to access and use the necessary tools for their studies. However, it’s become apparent that these portals may not adequately meet the needs of research sites at all.
Unfortunately, traditional portals often fail to achieve their intended objectives due to their limited functionality. They are typically designed for a single trial, which forces site staff to navigate multiple portals across all their active studies. Although this is an improvement over storing links and contacts in spreadsheets and bookmark folders, it is not a long-term solution to the fundamental issue. Having a separate portal for each trial makes it easy for the site to overlook them since they are not frequently used.
This scenario plays out at many sites, where poor adoption rates prevent the portals from becoming an integral part of the staff’s daily workflow. The missed opportunity for creating a more “sticky” solution not only impacts trial efficiency and quality short term but also hinders much sought-after collaboration and communication that can be enabled when a platform becomes an essential standard across all sites running a single study.
The good news is that novel and innovative technologies are emerging to provide a universal portal solution that benefits sponsors, CROs, and research sites alike. A universal approach prioritizes the needs of research sites above all else, reducing the need to add additional software in the site’s already crowded tech stack.
By curating all the technology bookmarks required for a study in a single location, sites are better equipped to manage the burden of technology in their trials. In fact, research conducted by UserEvidence of VersaTrial users found that each site staff member can save an hour a week on average using a universal study organizer. 41% even reported saving more than an hour a week, giving them valuable time to focus on other aspects of the study. As a result, 23% of users said they were able to see at least two additional study participants per week with the extra time saved. When extrapolated across all staff working across all sites on a specific study, these time savings can have a significant impact on study timelines.
Moreover, a universal portal solution also benefits sites by enabling faster onboarding of new staff members. With a clearly defined list of technologies used for the specific study, new staff can more quickly understand the technology stack and their responsibilities. This means they can begin contributing to the study more quickly, ultimately benefiting the trial’s efficiency and success.
The stickiness factor of a universal portal is its greatest strength and differentiator. When the portal is not tied to a single study or sponsor, it naturally becomes a centralized, essential tool for the sites. As it becomes embedded in the site’s daily workflow, it unlocks measurable value across the entire research cycle for all stakeholders.
Once a site portal becomes an integral part of the staff’s workday, it not only benefits sites but also now provides sponsors and CROs with a reliable channel for improving overall communication and engagement throughout the study. Unlike email, which can easily get lost in the chaos of the inbox, in-app messages on the universal portal have an open rate that is 4x higher. This creates a more effective and streamlined way to welcome sites to new studies or send them praise when they hit significant milestones.
Having a centralized platform also enables all stakeholders to stay in-sync about important staffing and technology access changes that could potentially create blockers to the study. For instance, if a new CRA joins the CRO team, or a new coordinator joins the site, having a single platform to communicate this change can prevent delays and frustration caused by miscommunication or dead ends.The ability to stay informed about staffing changes is especially critical in the current climate, where site staff turnover has doubled relative to pre-pandemic levels.
A universal portal also enables granular access visibility, ensuring that the right people have access to the right study tools. We hear many horror stories of Principal Investigators returning to an infrequently used application only to realize their access has now lapsed due to inactivity. With the ability to see who on the site team has access to what platform and when they last logged in, busy clinical research coordinators can have peace of mind that their team and, most importantly, their PI won’t be held up by lack of access during a patient visit.
A recent Tufts CSDD Impact Report found that sites are 3 to 4 times more likely to have an optimistic view when they feel that sponsors seek out, value, and apply site feedback. A universal portal can provide the opportunity to deploy in-app surveys. These surveys can help identify pain points or inefficiencies in the study process, allowing sponsors and CROs to address them quickly and effectively. By measuring site engagement and satisfaction, sponsors and CROs can deliver impactful change that improves the overall experience for staff and study participants. A universal portal can serve as an excellent platform for conducting surveys, enabling sponsors and CROs to collect feedback from all study sites in a single, centralized location. This makes it easier to identify patterns and areas for improvement, as well as benchmark data that might not be available otherwise.
These interactions are a true lever of engagement in the frequently digital and detached state of clinical research, where sponsors, CROs, and their site partners have limited opportunities for face-to-face communication.
It’s not too late to realize the benefits promised by the tech boon in clinical research, but the industry needs to shift its mindset towards enabling sites to do their best work. To streamline clinical trials and make them more efficient, we need to not only equip sites with the tools necessary to run a successful trial, but also provide them with a centralized platform for organizing, managing and accessing them. By refining universal portal solutions that work for all stakeholders involved in clinical trials, we can save valuable time, resources, and money while enhancing trial efficiency, engagement, and success.