Engaging Patients In a Clinical Trial Conversation Within the Context of Covid-19

Dr. Axler talks about clinical trial continuity during the covid-19 pandemic.

First published in Clinical Trial Continuity Newsletter | ABBV-CA00081-FM | Issue 2

How has your approach to discussing clinical trials with patients changed given the pandemic and what have you found to be the most effective communication strategies?

Some things are the same, but some are very different. It’s expected that patients will have questions about new investigational products. The unique challenge now with this pandemic is to engage those patients in a discussion over the phone about the clinical trial rather than face-to-face. Typically, a trusting relationship between clinician and patient is built in person, over time, and after a comprehensive discussion of the therapeutic options available to them, either routinely or in a research setting. This may take more than a one time phone call. Those patients who are bio naïve have increased anxiety about starting a therapy with an unknown or incomplete efficacy and safety profile. I have found the following communication strategies to be the most successful when discussing clinical trials:

  • Set the landscape early: Prepare the patient early on for this possibility. Helping patients to understand that therapies in IBD are similar to candles, it is expected that they will eventually burn through some, but the time can vary from patient to patient and having a plan in place allows for both physician and patient to adapt and transition smoothly. Talk about Plan B early on.
  • Introducing the clinical trial option: Making patients aware of the important research that is happening every day in IBD, and that it may play a role in optimizing their care in the future should be confidence building and set the stage for participation in a trial if and when the situation presents itself. Plan B works for some patients.
  • The 3F’s: When addressing patient concerns, a simple acknowledgment of “I understand how you FEEL, this is what I’ve FOUND, and let’s discuss how we’ll move FORWARD”.

In some ways, the pandemic has normalized conversations around research, clinical trial participation and the necessary role it has in evolving health care. In many unexpected patients, this increased awareness has emboldened them to be more proactive in their own care by exploring options to discuss with their physician.


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