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In 2020, Mednet surveyed clients to better understand how clinical trial teams viewed COVID-19 and how it impacted their work and the design and conduct of clinical trials. It’s now a year later, and we conducted a second survey to assess if perceptions have evolved. This year we asked many of the same questions, but we also expanded the survey to include questions about virtual, hybrid, and decentralized trials. This blog will look at the same COVID impact questions asked one year later and how the answers vary. In upcoming posts, we’ll explore the additional insights from the survey. 

The 2020 survey was conducted a couple of months into the pandemic when teams had just moved to remote work environments. At that time, almost 60% of respondents reported having to put a study on hold due to COVID-19. Local and regional lockdowns made it difficult, if not impossible, for study participants and study staff to conduct in-person visits. The most common reasons noted for putting a study on hold were that study patients were not able to visit sites, sites could not see patients, and sites were not able to perform elective surgeries.  

The broadest question of the survey asked respondents to assess the long-term impact of the pandemic. The question read, “Do you believe the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on how clinical trials are designed/conducted?”   

In 2020, 64.52% of respondents believed it would have a lasting impact, while 6.45% did not think it would have a lasting impact. 29.03% were unsure what the impact would be.  

In 2021, nearly 20% more respondents, or 83.33%, felt that the pandemic would have a lasting impact, while 8.33% thought it would not, and another 8.33% were unsure. The significant change in the numbers of those who believed it would have a lasting impact and those who were uncertain of the impact may reflect a combination of factors. At the time, it was likely unknown how long the restrictions and immediate impact would last. As we discussed last year in our webinar with CRO partner MedTrials, months of unplanned disruption accelerated change and innovation in the industry. Health authorities also provided additional guidance on topics such as telemedicine, hybrid, and decentralized trials. In the broader healthcare industry, both patients and clinicians became more comfortable with virtual care models. And a year later, many clinical trial study participants and study teams are also more comfortable interacting via alternate channels (video calls/telemedicine).  

Digging into the topic a bit, we asked, “How do you think the pandemic will impact how clinical trials are designed/conducted?” This was a multiple-choice question that allowed the respondent to choose more than one option. 

In 2020, almost 95% of respondents felt that the pandemic would increase the pace of enabling certain roles to perform tasks remotely. Nearly 79% thought it would increase the rate of virtual participation of participants. In 2021, about the same percentage of respondents expected an increase in the pace of specific roles to perform tasks remotely. However, the percentage of respondents expecting the pandemic to increase participants’ virtual participation increased to almost 95%.  

Similarly, the percentage of respondents who believed the pandemic would drive teams to adopt new technologies to address new processes and designs increased from 63% to 79%.  

These responses align with what the Mednet team has seen in the past year. Entire conferences are now dedicated to hybrid, virtual, and decentralized trials. Numerous industry initiatives and groups have been formed to address standardization and simplifying the complexities of such efforts. Interest in hybrid, virtual and decentralized trials was mounting as the pandemic started and increased rapidly. Clinical research teams pivoted quickly to operate remotely as needed, while adjusting their standard operating procedures to account for the evolving lockdowns. The continuing popularity of web-based technology solutions supported a rapid transition. It enabled these teams to continue working with minimal disruption. 

On the study participant side, we continue to see teams trying new data collection technologies such as wearables and IoT that allow participants to provide data without requiring an onsite visit. Simultaneously, telemedicine has become a standard practice across clinical research and the broader healthcare landscape in the last year. The pandemic may have driven the wide use of these technologies. The convenience and improvement to the patient experience will most likely keep them in the toolbox as research teams investigate new and better ways to collect data while improving the patient experience.  

Some great science, innovative best practices, and pioneering collaborations have come out of the pandemic. The Mednet team is excited to continue to lead the industry with flexible technology solutions designed to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving industry, while enabling clinical trial teams to take on the most complex challenges of clinical research. As a leading technology partner, we are looking to the future to ensure our solutions prepare our client teams for the challenges of today and tomorrow.