Whether you’re taking medication, have started a diet and exercise program, or are involved in rehab and preventive health, there is one common thread necessary for successful results: commitment. Commitment is, of course, just another way of saying compliance, the Holy Grail of healthcare.
For clinical trials, patient compliance is paramount. Many clinical trials are evaluated by the FDA only after they have amassed a certain number of patient years. Given that many studies require thousands of patient years, study participants must stay engaged for several years or more in order to produce enough data to submit for review. And in addition to the common compliance challenges that other healthcare categories face, clinical trials have an added layer that makes it even more challenging. Specifically, participants may receive placebo, or the drug may not be effective for their condition.
Those in clinical development will universally agree that patient retention is all about maintaining meaningful relationships with the physician investigator and the research staff. However, without the right tools to foster and support such relationships, it’s often easier said than done.
Building a Retention Program that Resonates
There are many different ways to facilitate and encourage relationships with patients. Some are direct, through training and development, while others are a bit subtler. Below are examples of both methods, each one leading to extremely high retention rates.
Women’s Health Example:
In a women’s sexual health study, participants needed to remain active in a placebo-controlled program for up to five years. Through primary market research, we unearthed that, while women sought a medical solution, they also sought camaraderie. They believed their participation could lead to the improvement of women’s health, and were proud of that opportunity.
To acknowledge this pride and unite study participants with the research staff, we commissioned 10 well-known female artists to develop original artwork incorporating aspirational imagery and study brand elements. The artwork was printed on heavy cardstock and sent with an artist bio on branded letterhead, along with a letter thanking them for their continued participation and for furthering the research of this important condition. The patients did not know the cards were coming, so it served as a thoughtful and unexpected thanks and strengthened their relationship with the study staff. The cards were sent on an automated basis from a fulfillment house, which didn't add to the coordinator's workload, and they arrived on meaningful dates, such as birthdays and study anniversaries.
The art card program was a unique way of engaging patients and had a significant impact on retention rates. In fact, nearly 77% of study participants stayed in the study through the first three years, and many patients shared with their study coordinators that they framed and displayed them in their homes, serving as a constant reminder of the initiative.
Weight Loss Example:
In a recent obesity trial, a critical study milestone required that participants lose a certain percentage of weight loss to continue on with the weight loss program. The challenge was that this weight loss goal had to be achieved for many patients between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Support for those attempting to lose weight was critical to success.
To provide that added level of personal support to participants, we needed to train the trainer. We utilized a series of live webinars led by a behavioral psychologist and a dietitian to conduct empathy skills training and dispel common weight loss myths with study coordinators. Following the training, we provided the study coordinators with printed materials that reinforced the lessons they were taught. The execution was timed so that the printed materials arrived within days of the webinar in order to retain the information. While the program is too recent to have any metrics available, everything we’ve seen so far with the program has been overwhelmingly positive.
A Little Appreciation Goes a Long Way
If relationships are the key to building compliance, it's your job to build the right tools to develop and sustain those relationships. To do that, you must understand your patients, including what motivates and inspires them, as well as how you can help them overcome challenges. Once these tools are in place, your relationship should be cemented to endure over the long haul.