A look at the uptake of digital technologies in clinical research
By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC; Kari Brown; Siza Mphele and Dr. S. Govender

In almost all fields, established professionals tend to do things the way they’ve always done them. Let’s be honest – it’s just human nature. While most site staff are comfortable with paper informed consents and source materials, sponsors and CROs are eager to adopt new methods, and they have a high level of interest in implementing new technologies in upcoming trials.

Although growing in use (in part due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic), the widespread adoption of such technologies still faces various hurdles. One major obstacle that DZS has encountered is the reluctance (or inability) of many sites to use new technologies in their trials. Indeed, just this past March, DT Consulting released its first “Clinical Trial Digital Tracker Survey”, showing that up to 43% of clinical research sites worldwide are not utilizing digital technologies. As professionals on the forefront of modern medicine, it seems counterintuitive that sites would reject such advancements in their desire to maintain the status quo.

Here at DZS, we have experience with many different technology solutions, and we like to stay knowledgeable regarding recent trends of digitization in clinical research. We have been involved in multiple “hybrid” trials and regularly implement remote monitoring techniques. We are also preparing to launch our first entirely virtual trial. With those experiences in mind, we thought it would be interesting to take a deeper look at this slow uptake and how we, as industry leaders, can help our global partners adopt these technologies.

Barriers to Implementation
So, why would professionals at the head of medical discoveries shun the digitization of clinical research? The answers are both complex and straightforward. Reasons include access to technology and proper training at the site level, both for research staff and study volunteers, as well as the cost to sites. In many rural and underserved areas, difficulties in obtaining access to high-speed internet service may hinder the adoption of digital technologies. Further concerns revolve around data security and the privacy of trial data. What if a participant doesn’t utilize a password for their home Wi-Fi? What about the ease of use for devices in trials with more senior sectors of our population? Will tech support be available 24/7, and will they be friendly?

Making Digitization a Reality
The benefits of embracing digitization are enormous, not just from a sponsor or CRO perspective but also for our partners at research sites. Here at DZS Clinical Services, our Project Management teams are capable of guiding digitally naïve sites, saving both time and money for everyone involved. The utilization of web based training enables our PM teams to both visually and verbally guide digitally naïve sites through training in the systems pertinent to their trials. Additional training can be provided on an as needed basis, including the use of the use of actual platforms with mockup trials.

Digitalization of clinical research methods allows participants and study monitors to decrease the number of in-person visits required. The utilization of telehealth for virtual visits, digital technologies for remote capture of physiological data, improved access to electronic health records allow for improved patient safety monitoring and increased study efficiencies.

The Corona Effect
With few exceptions, it’s difficult to name an industry that has been as impacted by the Coronavirus Pandemic as medicine and clinical research. Before the pandemic, we had telemedicine visits with “teledocs,” but they were nowhere near as common as they are today. The DT Consulting’s survey revealed that virtual consultations increased by as much as 50% after the onset of the pandemic. Similarly, uptake of digital technologies in clinical research has also seen a significant increase in acceptance and utilization.

Just as with political change, genetics, and evolution, it often takes a great event to disrupt the status quo. While we didn’t see an explosion or revolution, per se, it appears that the pandemic may have been the impetus that forced a dynamic change in the way we conduct clinical research on a global level.

Here at DZS Clinical Services, we are proud to be at the forefront of the digitization of clinical research trials. DZS’s project managers, data analytics team, and statistical professionals are experienced and fully prepared to assist in bringing clinical research to its full potential. Additionally, we would like to extend our gratitude to our friends at LT Clinical Research, Dr. Sumen Govender and Siza Mphele. Their decades of combined experience in clinical research have been intstrumental in the development and deployment of clinical research technologies globally.

Contact us today to learn how our cutting edge digital technologies can be your direct line to improved clinical performance.