Delivering frictionless patient experiences in clinical research

Written by:

Thomas Sutton

Senior Director of Experience Design, Digital Health R&D

Richard Dearden

Head of Artificial Intelligence, Digital Health R&D



Sean Connolly

Head of Information Technology, Drug Development & Digital Health


Imagine a future where finding and joining a clinical trial is as simple as today’s best online shopping and fulfillment experiences, slotting seamlessly into routine healthcare and daily life, with most if not all of the necessary appointments and monitoring done from the comfort of your own home.

And because recruitment is seamless and speedy and the resulting data is clinically validated for regulatory approval, the process of bringing life-changing medicines to the patients who need them is dramatically accelerated.

Right now, we’re still some way from achieving this vision. Participation in clinical trials often involves considerable effort, expense, and discomfort for patients, contributing to low participation rates and frequent drop-outs.

Digital technologies have revolutionised many other aspects of life, bringing frictionless user experiences to banking, travel, shopping and even buying insurance. Our ambition is to make clinical trials into a similarly smooth, effortless experience for participants. We want to use the best of the technologies available to support patients through the process of a trial, give them the information they need and want at the right time and guide them to the next relevant action.

Starting with patients

Delivering digitally-enabled frictionless patient experiences in clinical research starts with a deep understanding of the patient journey and needs.

We’ve conducted extensive research directly with patients to discover what they think about the processes and procedures involved in trials, identifying the moments that matter and how they can be made easier, simpler and quicker.

To achieve this, every patient will need to be served information in places that are convenient and timely, with clear support and escalation points should they need them.

One example where digital technology can deliver a better patient experience is informed consent, the cornerstone of clinical trial participation. Online tools can provide stepwise, tailored information for prospective participants at the pace they need, rather than reams of text to be scrolled through and clicked away or lengthy paper documents. Our research shows that digital methods of informed consent provide a more engaging experience that improves a patient’s understanding of a trial in comparison to today’s standard document sharing methods.

Digitally-enabled trials also provide a great opportunity for seamlessly offering information, support and reassurance where it’s needed throughout the trial and beyond, including feeding findings back to participants so that they can understand how they’ve helped to make a difference.

Going remote

Dealing with the routine care associated with a health condition is already a burden, so we should do all we can to avoid adding to it. Ideally, the act of taking part in a frictionless trial should slot into the rhythm of regular healthcare. Yet, historically, the vast majority of data collected in clinical trials is gathered through additional on-site appointments at trial centres.

This requirement for in-person attendance limits participation to those who have the desire, ability, money and physical fitness to get there. In turn, this has a significant impact on the socioeconomic, geographic and ethnic diversity of participants and the resulting data gathered from them.

To help address this, we assess whether every test and measurement is really necessary and, if so, see whether it can be slotted into routine health appointments or done from home. As an example of this approach in action, we recently reviewed more than 90 trial protocols and found that up to 70% of data could be collected remotely.

The growing availability of at-home health monitoring devices, wearables, smartphone apps and tests - accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic - can reduce the burden on patients, remove barriers to participation, and increase diversity and geographic spread of trial participation, all while helping to improve patient outcomes.

However, while digitally enabled remote monitoring tools can collect far richer, real-time and real-world data than could ever be possible from infrequent in-person clinical visits, it’s vital that the data generated by these devices is clinically validated and suitable for regulatory approval at the end of the journey. It’s equally important that the use of telehealth, wearables and mobile apps do not add complexity for patients and caregivers, and that patients have the flexibility and choice around how they participate in a trial.

Partnering for success

To bring our vision of frictionless trials to life, staying on top of the latest technology innovation is essential. With the tremendous investment in digital health technology and growing number of tech companies, it can be challenging to pick the right technology partners. It’s also easy to become too focused on technology, and lose sight of what matters most – improving patient outcomes.

That’s why it’s so important to leverage insights directly from patients and map the patient journey end-to-end. This includes everyone involved in conducting a trial – the doctors, trial centre staff, and patients and caregivers.

We apply design thinking techniques to frame the problems, or ‘friction points’, develop and test our hypothesis, and then surveille the tech landscape to identify the right solutions.

With the rapid innovation we see daily, we are constantly scouting the tech ecosystem, and we share this activity across our global team. The healthcare landscape is diverse, which means we need strong partners in different parts of the world. Our ambition is to deliver seamless trial experiences to patients no matter what country they live in.

A win-win situation

A truly great patient experience should suit each individual according to their lifestyle, comfort with technology and access to healthcare. From the patient perspective, participating in a clinical trial should feel like a seamless part of their regular medical care and daily self-management, rather than a bolt-on extra. This is how we meet patients where they are, and reimagine today’s barriers to trial participation through digital technology.

Clinical trials are expensive, slow and inefficient, mainly due to lengthy recruitment phases and participant dropouts. Addressing these challenges through better digitally-enabled patient experiences will make a huge difference and accelerate the process of getting life-changing new medicines to patients.

We’re working towards a future where healthcare is ever more human-centred, with patients being involved in research as an option within the care ecosystem. Refocusing clinical research around the patient experience demands a rethink in how we design and deliver trials in a transformational way, and in doing so, we have a golden opportunity to make it easier to connect life-changing therapies and medical expertise to the people who need them.

Cristina Duran Chief Digital Health Officer, R&D


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Veeva ID: Z4-38228 

Date of preparation: September 2021