Referring patients to clinical trials is personal, study shows

referring patients to clinical trials

By Kathleen Hoffman, PhD MSPH

Why is it so hard to get physicians to refer patients to clinical trials?  One cynical assumption is that physicians are afraid they’ll lose that patient’s business.  Not so, according to a Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development survey.1

Doctors are confident about and familiar with the clinical trial process. The survey of over 750 physicians found a high degree of comfort with clinical trials; almost 90 percent said they were comfortable providing and discussing clinical trial opportunities with patients. Yet the bottom line remains that the rate of referral to clinical trials was a dismal 0.16 percent of their annual clinical care patient volume.1

Make it personal

When are physicians most likely to refer a patient to a clinical trial? Forty-nine percent agreed with the statement that they are most likely to refer “To a colleague or someone I know.” Only 10 percent agreed with the statement “a professional I’ve heard positive things about.” This makes sense. Having a personal connection with a clinical trial investigator would give a physician greater access to that investigator and perhaps more confidence in the care their patient would receive.

To bring physicians in the field closer to the clinical trial experience and to more personal interactions with clinical trial investigators is a challenge. However, there appear to be missed opportunities in communicating about studies at websites that are frequented by physicians.

In a surprise finding, the Tufts study reviewed the 25 most popular websites frequented by physicians — (eg, Sermo, Doximity, WeMedUp, Doctors Hangout, DailyRounds, and MomMD) and found that less than five percent offered clinical research-related information. Given that two of the top reasons for not referring patients were uncertainty of where they could refer and lack of time to research the studies, those might be a good place to start. Online, physicians can interact with clinical investigators, increasing their personal knowledge of those investigators. 1

Patient reliance on physician’s opinion

Because 67 percent of the Inspire members responding to Inspire’s Fourth Annual survey make their care decisions “in collaboration with the doctor,” a doctor’s unfamiliarity with a clinical trial is a fundamental stumbling block to participation.2

Yet the Fourth Annual survey also found that almost all (99 percent) of patients are independently researching their condition and 63 percent prepare for doctor’s appointments by preparing questions and notes. Moreover, half of patients and caregivers proactively start discussions with their doctor about new treatment options.2 Campaigns directed at recruiting Inspire members to clinical trials would also be an effective strategy to increase referrals. As with DTC advertising, patients bring what they see about clinical trials to their physicians.

Using sponsored content to present information on the investigators leading clinical trials and providing easily understandable details about clinical trials to engaged patients can raise the profile of investigators and awareness of clinical trials to patients and their physicians.

See our case study, “Patient Focused Clinical Trial Design for Rare Complications”

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