Pros & Cons of DCTs & Virtual Clinical Trials

From "The Gift of Participation" by Ken Getz, Founder & Board Chair, CISCRP

They are known by different names: DCTs (decentralized clinical trials), remote, direct-to-patient, virtual, digital, site-less or simply patient centric clinical trials. All of these approaches share the common goal of making it easier to participate in research by reducing—or eliminating altogether—the number of study visits patients must make to conventional investigative sites or labs and allowing for more flexibility in carrying out study-related activities. Many of these approaches use smartphones, mobile devices, and wearable sensors to collect and evaluate patient data during the study.

Study volunteers often need to travel long distances to medical facilities, many need to stay overnight in a hotel, and take time off work to participate in a conventional clinical trial. Research from CISCRP shows that about one-fifth of study volunteers find clinical trial participation stressful and report the investigative site location and time-consuming study visits are among the least-liked aspects of the experience. Half of volunteers also feel that participation causes disruption to their daily routine. New, more convenient approaches are especially valuable for patients who may be too sick to travel or for those who rely on caregivers for support. Study volunteers who find it difficult to fit additional medical appointments into an already busy schedule or those who live far from the investigative site and wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in the trial also benefit.

Not every clinical trial currently offers study volunteers an in-home or remote option, and it will take quite some time for a large number of trials to be done this way, but use of these approaches is expected to increase as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies invest more widely in efforts to improve the clinical trial experience for patients. Research sponsors and regulators are working on initiatives that better take patient needs into account and could eventually allow patients to participate in clinical research wherever and whenever they want, whether it be their own primary-care doctor’s office, home, workplace, school, or anywhere else.

You shouldn’t feel forced to participate in a remote or at home study if you live near an investigative site and would prefer to have a face-to-face relationship with the study staff.

Pros:

  • You won’t need to travel and make frequent visits to an investigative site.
  • You’ll spend less time in a medical office.
  • You can participate in telemedicine visits at a time convenient for you, perhaps in the evening or on weekends.
  • You can contact someone on the research team 24 hours a day.
  • You may feel empowered by being able to participate whenever it is convenient to do so.

Cons:

  • You won’t have the same number of face-to-face interactions with study staff.
  • If you have a technical problem, you have to reach someone on your own to resolve the issue.
  • You’ll need to make sure you’re home to sign for clinical trial-related deliveries.
  • You may be asked to take your own vital signs or perform tests several times a day.
  • You may need to travel to a lab or medical facility for lab work or exams.
  • You may be asked to collect samples and arrange for them to be picked up.
  • You’ll likely need to send back all of the loaned devices and monitors at the end of the trial.
  • Not all wearable technologies have been validated, so you may need to repeat tests or travel to the research center for a special assessment.

When deciding whether a home-based or remote clinical trial is right for you, after you’ve learned as much as you can about the study visits and what activities you’ll need to perform on your own, discuss the pros and cons with your family, friends and primary care physician. It’s best to ask for input from people you know and trust and to involve your support network in your decision-making process.

For more information on decentralized clinical trials and making informed decisions about volunteering for clinical research, read “The Gift of Participation” by Ken Getz, Founder and Board Chair, CISCRP.

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