Improve Patient Support Resulting in Higher Enrollment and Retention in Clinical Trials by Applying Corporate Meetings Management Best Practices

This article has 3 parts and introduces concepts we hope will improve the experience for all patients and caregivers who volunteer their blood sweat and tears to help bring new cures to market. This is for all of the medical heroes out there. Please join in on the conversation by commenting below or sending us a message at spsp@blockclinical.com.

Part 1: Preface
Part 2: Introduction to Strategic Patient Support Programs (SPSP)
Part 3: Creating a “SPSP” – a 5 Step Approach

Part 1: Explaining the Longest Title Ever

A bit about the Author (me):
After graduating with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I promptly decided “engineering” wasn’t for me and took a job traveling around the country working as a “Travel Director” – the professional name for the lovely people you see at conferences and meetings that help attendees with their every needs. I still have the utmost respect for these folks and have formed lasting relationships that still exist today. This was during the mid-2000s when “Strategic Meetings Management” had moved from concept and theory to tried and true practice, with measured results. It was during this period of time that “SMM” (or SMMP) was the catch phrase at every industry conference, much like “patient centricity” is today. It was the only model I knew, and I have no doubt this “new” model helped companies achieve many of their business objectives.

The back story, and the reason for the long title:
I was lucky enough to work for both large and small “meeting planning” companies, and even got the opportunity to sit in-house at a major Pharmaceutical company as a dedicated (albeit outsourced) meetings manager. In a relatively short amount of time I gained a well rounded view of the industry, learned the importance of quality in the eyes of the customer, and maybe most importantly, that every stakeholder had their own agendas, and helping them succeed as individuals was paramount.

In 2013, while working as a Client Services Manager for a boutique meetings and incentives planning company, one of our pharmaceutical clients approached us to create a “concierge” service for patients who were enrolling in their clinical trial – a trial focused on a rare, debilitating condition. Our goal was simple – to reduce participation burdens by helping enrolled patients and their caregivers get from their homes, often hundreds of miles away, to a clinical site and back, pre-paying for everything as they went, and communicating directly throughout the process. Beyond management of logistics, we actively applied values of the hospitality industry to ensure the genuine care and comfort of the patient volunteers and their families.

We would go on to support patients in over 20 countries, and helped our client recruit more patients than they had hoped, in a shorter amount of time than planned, and kept retention rates well above the industry average. Patients and Sites were happy, our client was happy, and we were happy. So happy that we would go on to pivot from meetings and incentives to focus 100% on this new service. Today, this company continues to be one of the leading patient concierge service companies in the industry and this niche market continues to grow. These types of services that were once “new and innovative” are becoming more common across clinical trials, particularly in rare disease trials.

What I started to notice was that these services only seemed applicable to a small fraction of the patients who volunteer for clinical trials. Why weren’t all patients and their caregivers receiving services that clearly reduce the burdens associated with participation in clinical trials?
Because these types of patient services are relatively new, there exists a tremendous opportunity to create efficiencies, reduce costs, improve financial visibility and cash flow across all trials. This is when I realized that these same issues and opportunities existed in the meetings industry, and that there exists a proven model to draw upon.

If “we” can work together to create new models that are highly efficient, automated, cost effective, and yield a positive ROI on each and every clinical visit, Sponsors will be more inclined to pay for these services universally.

In early 2018, my business partner and I founded Block Clinical Inc., a patient logistics technology company whose Mission is to ensure that all patients who volunteer for clinical trials receive the support they deserve. We empower our Customers to create and implement Strategic Patient Support Programs (SPSP) that leverage technology to streamline patient management, while providing clinical trial professionals with transparent, real-time reporting of all transactions through a secure, integrated platform. The result is an enhanced trial experience for patients, caregivers, and clinical sites that maximizes performance, engagement, and quality of clinical trials.

In Part 2, I’ll introduce SPSP and describe in more detail certain aspects of a program… here’s a teaser:

Part 2: Introduction to Strategic Patient Support Programs (SPSP)

The underlying concepts of a Strategic Patient Support Program (SPSP) are based on a tried-and-true approach that has been applied for over two decades in the corporate meetings industry and has proved to be a win for organizations who have gone through the efforts to create and implement “Strategic Meeting Management”, or “SMM” for short. SMM has come a long way since its adoption, what originated as a term to define the concept of meetings consolidation has grown to become industry best practice. Organizations have realized the importance of SMM and how implementing a program is no longer a nice to have, but a “must have”.

Top 3 benefits of a SMMP:

  1. Greater understanding of meetings data including costs, volume, and ROI
  2. Achieve cost savings
  3. Minimize risk associated with meeting and event activities

Applying these concepts to improve Patient care makes sense, and we are quickly moving to a time where a program that governs how all patients are supported, across all trial types, is becoming a “must have.” There are also similarities related to the types of services rendered and the vast network of suppliers needed to support an SMMP, or SPSP – travel, payments, and 3rd party services companies. For SMMP, you’ve got meeting planning companies, for SPSP you’ve got patient concierge/service companies – in both instances these companies provide value on top of the administration of logistics.

Top 3 benefits of a SPSP:

  1. Greater understanding of patient logistics and support data through improved financial transparency and logistics visibility across all clinical trials
  2. Achieve cost savings
  3. Increased enrollment and retention rates lead to improved trial performance

Defining SPSP
SPSP can be defined as a disciplined approach to managing company-wide clinical trials, study-related processes, activities, metrics, standards, and supplier strategies to achieve business objectives, quantitative cost savings, risk mitigation and optimal service levels.

The tenants for the program could look something like the diagram below (and I say “could” because we expect “you” to evolve this concept over time, and customize to meet the needs of your organization). There is no silver bullet approach that will suit every organization in every situation, but the framework can be applied to develop customized approaches that are well suited for an organization’s strategic goals and unique culture.

What we like to say is that SPSP is part policy, part technology, and part service.
Policy: policies set parameters, dictate how things should happen across all aspects of an SPSP, and help drive compliance. For example, this may include a travel policy that clearly states what services are being offered, and how much can be spent on these services. In tandem with procedures, policies help create consistency.
Technology: technology alone does not solve the SPSP equation, rather it’s an enabler. Without technology it is nearly impossible to gather enterprise-wide data, collaborate with the myriad of stakeholders that support clinical trials and patients, and protect patient PII from end-to-end. It is worth noting, that stovepipe technology solutions may introduce a different set of issues – technology fatigue. There is enough “technology” that currently sits in the hands of Sites, Patients, CROs, and Sponsors. A good technology partner accepts that less is more, and works to integrate with existing technology partners to connect data while creating holistic, non-disruptive solutions.
Service: service is the component that directly helps a patient and rounds out their experience in a trial. It is delivered at the site, at the home, and everywhere in between. Site staff, caregivers, and patient “concierge” coordinators are just a few of the stakeholders that interact and provide value to patients during a trial. We try and look at service from all angles and take into account that the needs of a patient varies individually. Trials may take place at a clinical site, at a patients home, and more and more in “virtual” settings. For high needs patients in rare disease trials, 3rd party patients services companies can provide concierge level support. On the other end of the spectrum, virtual trials will require highly automated processes and technology systems that speak to each other in order to provide nearly instantaneous service to the patient. And last but not least, don’t forget about the logistics suppliers at the end of the line who provide direct services to patients and their caregivers – airlines, ground transportation, accommodations, and payments are standard but we’re seeing the need for integration with tele-med, Rx and device deliveries, and so forth.
1 part policy + 1 part technology + 1 part service = a global solution for all patients across all trial types
Result: improved quality and trial performance

Part 3: Creating a “SPSP” – 5 Step Approach

Since we have yet to implement a full fledged SPSP, we’re not going to attempt to recreate the wheel. Instead, we’ve paraphrased the framework as originally set for by the National Business Travel Association – now the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA):

  1. Define – the problem, the opportunity, the breadth and scope
    • Identify and engage stakeholders
    • Select an executive sponsor
  2. Measure – the current state of spend, processes, policies and staff involved
    • Conduct internal stakeholder interviews and surveys
    • Compile and analyze historical data
    • Research data available from suppliers
  3. Analyze – the opportunities
    • Identify process efficiencies
    • Plan risk management methodologies
    • Discover cost savings and avoidance opportunities
  4. Build – the framework for the program
    • Engage team in review of research findings
    • Analyze ROI
    • Build business case
  5. Implement – the SPSP
    • Educate, market, maintain and improve the new environment

To learn more about the Global Business Travel Association gbta.org.

“We’ll continue to refine this approach as we work with our initial set of Customers and key stakeholders while helping them establish their SPSPs. Implementation may take some time and will vary based on business objectives, program scope, and allocated resources. The history of SMM tells us that these programs will undergo continuous refinement following initial implementation, and contributes to the idea that a successful SPSP is never truly finished. Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable. –William Pollard

About Block Clinical:
Block Clinical Inc. is a patient logistics technology company whose Mission is to ensure that all patients who volunteer for clinical trials receive the support they deserve.

We empower our Customers to create and implement Strategic Patient Logistics Programs that leverage our technology to streamline patient management, while providing clinical trial professionals with transparent, real-time reporting of all transactions through our secure, integrated platform. The result is an enhanced trial experience for patients and caregivers that maximizes performance, engagement, and quality of clinical trials.

By: Zac Carr