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The Rise of Virtual Clinical Trials
Clinical drug trials are a prominent part of American medical history and innovation. Because of COVID-19, however, virtual clinical trials are now replacing traditional trials at a dramatic rate. ERT states that 82 percent of those conducting clinical trials are now implementing telehealth and integrated devices to conduct their research.
According to the Innovation Lab, it can take up to 15 years and over 2 billion dollars to research, develop, and market a new drug. Most of the time and money spent is on the clinical trial phase. Virtual clinical trials can help bring life-saving new medications to millions of people quicker and more effectively. There are several important aspects of virtual clinical trials you should know about.
How COVID-19 Has Changed Clinical Trials
When COVID-19 became a national emergency, clinical trials literally came to a standstill. Most participants and research staff weren’t able to travel to the sites where studies were taking place. We are now seeing the rise of virtual clinical trials. There are specific aspects of medical trials that are now different.
- Trials are now digitized. Whether you refer to them as virtual trials, digitized trials, or remote trials, they are all held almost exclusively online. The method includes either computers, smartphones, apps, video conferencing, or a combination of these between participants and research staff.
- They provide ongoing monitoring. In traditional trials, direct monitoring of patients only took place when individuals came to the testing site. Now, monitoring can take place 24/7 with telemedicine and virtual technology. Using wearables, medical personnel can monitor things such as heart rate and body temperature even when an individual is at home sleeping.
- They offer greater collaboration. Virtual clinical trials require greater collaboration between all the professionals participating in the study. The National Institutes of Health states that the transition and implementation of virtual clinical studies require extensive training, scheduling remote visits, and meeting daily to resolve challenges and recap progress. This type of collaboration may help improve the outcomes of the trials.
- They are often hybrid trials. Virtual clinical trials can often include elements of traditional trials with varying degrees of human contact. According to Clinical Trials Arena, visiting nurses are sometimes part of research trials. Nurses can help monitor high-risk participants. This may lower drop-out rates by making sure individuals take all necessary medications and follow proper procedures.
Benefits of Virtual Clinical Trials
While virtual research is still a relatively new field, there are already many advantages of engaging in remote studies. The following are several of the benefits of conducting virtual clinical trials.
- Virtual clinical trials include more participants. Finding and maintaining participants in any clinical trial is always one of the most difficult aspects of bringing new drugs to market. Where individuals live often limits their ability to take part in trials. A virtual trial eliminates the problem of where a person lives. Both those who live in rural and urban settings can participate.
- Virtual clinical trials provide detailed recruitment. When recruiting individuals digitally, the geographical range of participants is much wider. This usually means there is greater diversity in people taking part in the trials. This ultimately will provide more real-world representation than those who often take part in traditional clinical testing.
- Virtual clinical trials mean lower drop-out rates. When people can participate from the comfort of their homes, it is less likely they will drop out of the trials. Older individuals or those with disabilities are more likely to test medications when they can do so from home. Since many of the new medications are for people in these groups, this means more accurate testing is taking place.
- Virtual clinical trials cut costs. Clinical Leader states several ways that remote trials can save money. Traditional clinical trials often include investigator fees that average 40 to 60 percent of the total budget for clinical trials. Other costs that virtual clinical trials can reduce include brick-and-mortar research sites and administrative costs.
Drawbacks of Virtual Clinical Trials
Even though there are several benefits, there are a few drawbacks when conducting virtual trials. As virtual trials increase, healthcare professionals will need to work around or reduce the effects of these potential problems.
- Virtual clinical trials can present legal obstacles. State and Federal laws need following in every type of clinical trial. These laws vary from state to state and are different in each country. When individuals are participating digitally, each area they are from needs consideration.
- Virtual clinical trials need data protection. When nearly all aspects of the trial are online, protecting data and participant information is more crucial than ever. Hackers are becoming savvier in their techniques to steal online data. If you’re conducting a trial, you’ll need to make sure the devices the participants are using in their homes are as secure as the medical professionals’ systems and software.
- Virtual clinical trials need more oversight. If people are taking medication at home, it’s imperative they receive monitoring by medical professionals. Many studies also include self-reported outcomes. Statements of an individual’s self-reporting are not always as accurate as those from third-party professional observers.
- Virtual clinical trials aren’t appropriate for every study. For example, if you’re testing for dermatology medications, this type of trial is much more appropriate for virtual research than testing for more serious conditions that often require hospitalization. Harvard University states that research requiring a brain scan is not a good choice for a virtual trial.
Virtual Clinical Trials are Here to Stay
Even beyond the pandemic, virtual clinical trials are already becoming part of the new normal. One of the positive aspects of COVID is that it forces the medical and scientific community to adapt and come up with more effective ways to conduct research. Whether it’s working remotely or shopping online, people are increasingly taking part in all aspects of life digitally. This includes medicine and research. Many of these alternative research methods are proving to provide benefits that will remain in place even after the pandemic is over.
Virtual clinical trials now provide researchers with larger numbers of individuals able to participate in trials, higher retention rates, and a greater diversity of participants. This will almost certainly lead to breakthroughs in the scientific and medical field in the future.