Technology for Clinical Trials

What can be Learned From the COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Out?

Mary Costello has spent over thirty years in the healthcare and clinical research fields, working in commercial leadership roles with lar...

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The US has already achieved its target of 100 million Americans vaccinated in 100 days.  Cities, towns and states across the country have pulled off an amazing effort supported by huge teams of volunteers and healthcare professionals who have enlisted stadiums,clinics,mobile transport and public buildings to accomplish their goal. Despite a wide range of processes for rolling out the vaccine, there is one thing they have in common —the registration for the vaccine itself has been anything but simple.

Even “tech centers” such as San Francisco, New York City ,Boston and Austin, where user experience is part of day to day consideration, faced frustrating interfaces for vaccine registrations.  Nonetheless, resilience prevailed, with many of the first wave of eligible patients turning to their children, relatives, and neighbors for support. Tech savvy volunteers on NextDoor, for example, posted offers to help guide often despondent patients through that cumbersome process.

So, what can we learn from this effort?  

Obviously, the strong desire to be vaccinated is enough motivation to ensure that the end user soldiers through.

But what about our industry? Clinical trials can be an even trickier experience, and studies have shown that frustration in the user experience will cause patients to pause treatment, or give up on participation completely.

Good tech is grounded in human centered design, which considers not only the desired outcome, but also the human journey that defines the experience. This design begins with empathy for end users, considering potential internal or external barriers to entry, their hopes and fears. And, in the best case scenario, it involves co-creating the experience alongside those who will be using the product. The practice is often referenced to as user experience design. Tech as a proposed better solution should support and uphold the experience, not become an impediment or aversion to the goal.

A well-planned trial considers all the risks to successful study execution prior to finalizing a protocol. To get good data, one might consider making the experience human centered so that engagement increases, by way of a deeper understanding of the people in the trial.  Considerations should include patients’ age, living situations, transportation barriers, abilities, mindsets around health and health providers, support systems and more. For example, are the subjects you are trying to include fearful of hospitals and doctors? Beyond demographics, how do financial difficulties become blockers for participating in a trial or even considering one on a day to day basis?

Remember the registration for vaccines that we started with at the outset of this post? What if the font sizes were bigger. What if less information was on each page, and allow for bite size digestion? What if terminology was made simpler? What if there was an audio or video option to walk seniors through the process? What if there was an ability to hit a button to have a volunteer give you a ride (if you didn’t have someone in your life to help you)? These aren’t just features, these are human centered considerations to create a better experience, which in turn drive results.

The silver lining to every major challenge we face is that those same situations also turn into opportunities to incorporate learnings and continue to improve a more effective process.  Just as we will emerge from the pandemic with a heightened awareness of clinical needs and settings around the world, we will also be in a position to improve public health roll outs for the future. Here’s to the next 100 million and to using human centered design as our starting point.