Can Clinical Trial Navigators Steer Industry Toward a Better Public Image?

Jennifer Byrne, CEO, Javara Inc

“There’s a real need to reexamine the clinical trial workforce,” thought leader Jennifer Byrne told attendees of ACRP’s Southeast Regional Conference in Durham, N.C. yesterday (October 3).

Plagued by chronic personnel churn and workforce shortages, the clinical trial industry is also grappling with a sometimes-skeptical public that’s either wary or unaware of clinical trials as an option in their healthcare, said Byrne, CEO of Javara Inc.

She’s a big advocate of a somewhat new concept and potential role for clinical trial professionals: the clinical trial navigator (CTN). The CTN, also known as a health navigator, patient navigator, or resource navigator, acts as a member of a healthcare team to help research patients overcome barriers to enhance their overall health journey. “Their focus is the integration of clinical research and clinical care,” Byrne said.

At their best, CTNs can “build effective strategic working relationships with research participants and their support team, while supporting and educating all stakeholders in navigating the complex health system and the needs of ensuring high-integrity clinical trial conduct,” Byrne said. CTNs can “reduce health disparities, improve the patient’s engagement with their health, strive to enable patients to get the car they need, improve health outcomes, and reduce healthcare costs,” she added.

Further, by partnering with hospital and healthcare patient networks, Byrne said, CTNs can help ensure “clinical research gets on the menu” as an offering to a plethora of new patients who are members of those large networks. “It’s an opportunity to provide holistic care,” she explained.

Byrne also applauded the work of ACRP and the Avoca Group, among others, for taking “important steps” toward developing the standards and core competencies that will “elevate” the entire clinical trial workforce. “We have a responsibility to embrace standardization” and improve the overall quality of clinical trials, she stressed.

Professional development is a big positive on a number of other levels, Byrne said. For example, “the best way to keep [current] employees involved” is through offering training and other career-related programs, she said.

Byrne also called on industry to incorporate the CTN approach into its operations as a way to improve the reputation of clinical trials with the general public. “Fear among the public is a real barrier to participating,” she noted. For example, potential subjects are often uncertain how their personal health data will be used and shared post-trial. Arguably, a CTN is in a better position to bridge that knowledge gap by working with patients so they understand their data are secure and only shared with their knowledge and approval.

“Clinical research is a team sport,” Byrne reminded attendees. A CTN can galvanize new patients to become more involved in clinical trials and be new “advocates” for research.

Author: Michael Causey