The COVID-19 pandemic shone a harsh spotlight on the problems and pain points associated with clinical trials, according to a new report from TLGG Consulting.

The report argues that the digitalization of clinical trials, a shift that gained momentum during shutdown, offers solutions to numerous inconsistencies and inefficiencies inherent in traditional trials.

“Decentralized clinical trials represent a digital platform that’s providing a direct link between patients and their care, and it’s becoming a bridge towards more integrated approaches to care,” explained TLGG U.S. healthcare lead Ben Alsdurf. “We see this as the first step to invest in new models to help save resources and improve efficiency for pharma.”

Clinical trials are currently plagued with issues around recruitment and accessing diverse patient populations. Similarly, many would-be participants in the U.S. don’t live near a clinical center or lack access to transportation. And antiquated methods associated with data collection or storage bog down trials even further.

Needless to say, such issues contribute to delays in drug approvals. “We wanted to look at the existing technologies and approaches that are likely to be deployed to help resolve some of those challenges,” Alsdurf said.

Digital clinical trials could help improve diversity in recruitment as well as retention of trial participants, he added.

“With digital clinical trials, you can access people who are basically shut out of clinical research right now. If people live too far away, for instance, we might not be able to build a trial for a rare disease. These digital operating models will enable those people to be included in a way they haven’t been before.”

Alsdurf added that, as digitization of clinical trials grows, a more refined understanding of community-building will be essential for healthcare marketers. He pointed to social media as one potentially important driver.

“The industry’s going to have to shift to more of a community management approach, where you’re thinking about participants as part of a trial community and how you can engage with them over the life of a trial,” Alsdurf explained. “You have to think about how you can use these digital touchpoints to help improve their experience.”

Which isn’t to say that trial architects should completely abandon the approaches of the recent past. “People are used to seeing doctors in person,” Alsdurf warned. “The more we move virtually, the more we need to respond to some of those dimensions that are lost in the decentralized approach to care.”