With health care expenditures in the United States totaling $3.5 trillion, or nearly $11,000 per person, telemedicine continues to be a source of hope for the industry. By enabling physicians to examine patients remotely, virtual medicine platforms are increasingly viewed by practitioners and insurers as a way to bend the cost curve, and according to Global Market Insights, the telemedicine market isn’t going anywhere. Rather, it’s expected to reach $130.5 billion by 2025.
Some are currently seeing the same potential when it comes to remote clinical trials. A 2018 study by Johns Hopkins University found the average cost of a new drug trial was $19 million but could be many times higher for certain medicines. Lessening the need for in-person follow-ups could help reduce those outlays.
Electronically assisted trials have another potential upside too. They make it more likely for patients to stay in the program, thus reducing the time needed to evaluate new drugs. Additionally, participants don’t have to travel as often, they can receive reminders about when to take medications, and they can get instant support if they suffer adverse effects.
One of the companies betting on this new approach is Scottsdale, Arizona, United States–based VirTrial. In 2018, the firm introduced a platform that allows for audio and video calls between the research team—comprised of clinical research coordinators (CRCs), principal investigators (PIs), and physicians—and the trial participants. The program also supports e-mail and text messaging, enabling the CRCs to send reminders about drug usage, as well as supporting materials.
The idea came to VirTrial CEO Mark Hanley when he was serving on the board of a telehealth company and realized the same technology could be tweaked to support the clinical trial process.
“The clinical research industry is in a state of growth and evolution,” says Hanley. “Most research professionals agree the recruitment and engagement process needs to change in order to increase the percentage of successful trial outcomes and to speed the introduction of new medications to market.”
The pioneering patient management program of VirTrial is already garnering a lot of attention, both inside and outside the pharmaceutical industry. It recently snagged three Gold Stevie® Awards in the Health & Pharmaceuticals category (Service, Cloud Application/Service, and Healthcare Technology Solution). In what turned out to be a busy night at the 17th Annual American Business Awards®, the company also took home the People’s Choice Stevie® Award for Health & Pharmaceuticals.
The End of Inpatient Visits?
For Hanley, virtual platforms allow research sites to offer better patient engagement and higher retention rates throughout the clinical trial.
“Continual in-person visits to a research site can be difficult for patients, and those patients often can’t continue through the course of an entire trial because of the commitment required,” he says. “By offering virtual trials and enabling patients to comply with the required schedule via video from their homes or workplaces, it makes it much easier for them to complete the trial, thus reducing delays in the study.”
Unlike some remote medicine platforms that have entered the market, however, VirTrial doesn’t see remote capabilities as completely replacing in-person visits. Hanley says his company’s goal is to handle about 25 percent to 40 percent of visits, with the rest being performed face to face at clinical research sites.
“Having firsthand experience with more than ten thousand trials, the management team at VirTrial strongly believes in the intrinsic value of direct human interaction and advocates that in-person visits are necessary in certain cases,” says Hanley.
The company asserts that, practically speaking, less than 1 percent of trials could be done exclusively through virtual follow-ups. Therefore, VirTrial is positioning itself as a more realistic solution when it comes to operating a large-scale clinical trial.
Whether the pharmaceutical industry embraces this hybrid model is only one of the company’s hurdles going forward, though. VirTrial is also trying to stay ahead of the curve from a technological standpoint so research organizations can see the value of its solution over that of competitors.
VirTrial is currently working to develop functionality into its platform that allows for integration with Fitbit bands, Apple Watches, and other smart devices that can track health-related information, such as sleep patterns and cardiac function. No matter how much data those wearables can capture, though, Hanley sees them as supporting, rather than replacing, in-person visits.
“The evolution of clinical trials must incorporate technology to reduce patient burden and to increase site efficiencies, and it must also continue to leverage the value of direct human-to-human connections,” he says.
VirTrial recently won three Gold Stevie Awards in the New Product & Service Categories—one for Health & Pharmaceuticals - Service; one for Cloud Application/Service - Business Technology; and one for Healthcare Technology Solution - Business Technology—in The 17th annual American Business Awards®. They also won a People's Choice Stevie Award for Favorite New Products for Healthcare or Pharmaceutical Product or Service.
Interested in winning a Stevie Award in 2020?