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Navigating Clinical Trials: Breaking Down Barriers for Underrepresented Patients
Posted: Apr 08, 2024
Navigating Clinical Trials: Breaking Down Barriers for Underrepresented Patients image

Dr. Rouce, an esteemed Associate Professor at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital, illuminates at the Tandem conference the comprehensive steps taken to overcome various obstacles in clinical trial recruitment among underrepresented populations. Success at this institution underscores the significance of a meticulous approach, concentrating on recruitment, accrual, and retention.

Recruitment, Accrual & Retention

Dr. Rouce underscores the pivotal role of understanding the patient experience at every stage, from the frequency of study visits to the flexibility of visit dates. Assessing required versus optional visits and considering the proximity of local labs for patients traveling long distances ensures accessibility. Accrual is closely monitored by race/ethnicity, with efforts made to track and address recruitment failures.

The key highlights from her approach include:

Financial Burden: Navigating the Path to Affordability

Recognizing the financial impact on participants is crucial, requiring expertise in assisting patients with both public and private insurances or connecting them with charitable hospitals. Mastering these skills is essential to alleviate the financial burdens associated with clinical trial participation, ensuring access for every individual without undue economic strain.

Screening and Enrollment Failures

Exclusion criteria are scrutinized to determine if they are based on objective or subjective measures. Addressing logical, financial, and personal concerns, such as lost wages, transportation issues, or caregiving responsibilities, contributes to a more inclusive process. Building trust is paramount, combating fears of experimentation, exploitation, and concerns about randomization.

Reasons for Coming Off Treatment or Off Study

Distinguishing between clinical and non-clinical reasons helps identify barriers affecting specific populations. Streamlining consent documents, providing simplified language guides, and offering multi-language materials enhance understanding and accessibility.

Culturally Competent Communication

A multidisciplinary approach is embraced to address historical events, misconceptions, and mistrust concerns about clinical trials. Team members who can relate to diverse backgrounds are instrumental. Ongoing education about the importance of clinical trials requires a dedicated task force and a multi-pronged strategy.

Inclusion Criteria Considerations

Dr. Rouce supports reducing inclusion criteria to the most necessary, ensuring patients aren't exposed to studies they may not fully understand. A separate document or guide for clinical trials aids in this process, emphasizing the importance of addressing barriers without relying on patient self-screening.

Strategies for Acceleration

While recommending the streamlining of inclusion criteria, Dr. Rouce's meticulous approach to evaluating each step in the clinical trial recruitment process for historically underrepresented patient populations has indeed introduced complexities and increased costs. Despite this, her detailed strategy has demonstrated significant and meaningful increases in recruitment rates across different races and ethnicities.

However, it is acknowledged that further efforts may be necessary. When questioned about the potential simplification of inclusion and exclusion criteria to facilitate patient self-searching for clinical trials, Dr. Rouce pushed back, asserting that descriptive inclusion criteria are imperative in her hospital system, especially when a patient urgently "needs a trial fast." Unfortunately, Dr. Rouce's approach still does not address major barriers to generating lists of potential clinical trials so patients, who don’t have access to academic centers like Baylor College of Medicine Houston Methodist Hospital, never have to hear the worst news a cancer patient can ever hear “you're out of options.”

Remarkably, in a talk from the National Cancer Institute, Umit Topaloglu, in a later session by the CIBMTR Information Technology group (titled: Semantic Infrastructure for Cancer Research Informatics Branch) is backing an initiative aimed at bridging the gap in screening patients for clinical trials. Achieving this goal will likely necessitate enhanced standardization in the structured data of both Electronic Health Records (EHR) and the descriptions of eligibility criteria submitted to clinicaltrials.gov. This issue holds significance as the current process tends to favor local academic centers in reviewing and offering clinical trials to patients when they require care. Moreover, it potentially limits access to clinical trials for patients whose healthcare providers comprehend the intricacies of clinical trials and happen to be involved in their care.

Though her approach has proven successful at Houston Methodist Hospital, exploring additional strategies to involve patients earlier in their treatment decision-making process could facilitate the consideration of clinical trials among underrepresented populations. 

In conclusion, Dr. Rouce emphasizes the importance of an ongoing review process from study conception to completion. Involving advisory boards with minority representation ensures a continuous examination of strategies for improvement. Her insights underscore the necessity for a patient-centric, multidisciplinary approach. Systematically addressing each barrier in the clinical trial process promotes accessibility, diversity, and inclusivity. This not only enhances patient advocacy but also guarantees that medical research authentically represents and benefits all communities. 

The author Jay Hydren, PhD, CSCS

about the author
Jay Hydren, PhD, CSCS

I’m a clinical researcher with over 14 years of experience investigating various aspects of human health, nutrition, and physiology. My PhD encompassed the broad topics of nutrition and integrative physiology with a particular focus on age-related diseases and vascular health. My most recent work focuses on accelerating a cure and treatments for Multiple Myeloma. I’m also working to improve patient experiences and decision-making processes for cancer treatment and care. To complement these critical research efforts, I enjoy hiking and skiing in Utah and surrounding states, along with training my dog and digital photography. 

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