Developing inclusive technology: lessons from the clinic

At the end of June, our team attended Part One of a series on Diversity & Clinical Trials hosted by Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Newlab. The talk, entitled Access and Trust, featured panelists Ramona Burress of JanssenEric Roberts of Real Chemistry, and Sophia Goodison of GSK. Kimberly Tableman, CEO of Medicine X, moderated the event.

The discussion centered on the importance of recruiting diverse participants for clinical trials. It also highlighted some of the challenges and potential methods for establishing access and trust in clinical trials and beyond.

The panelists emphasized that building health equity is a collaborative process. It requires conscious, continuous effort and communication from all trial stakeholders: clinicians, participants, and sponsors.

Communicating with trial participants early and often

Clinical trials for new therapeutics and medical technologies aim to produce broadly applicable results. To ensure that new drugs and devices can help as many people as possible, Burgess, Roberts, and Goodison stressed that clinical trial leaders and staff must maintain clear and consistent communication throughout the trial. Clear communication helps trial leaders and staff to continuously gather input from participants. 

As such, the panelists strongly urged trial sites to initiate dialogue with participants as early as possible. Early patient engagement makes for more efficient, lower-cost studies. Most importantly, early engagement is an opportunity to build trust before a trial starts.

Consistent and transparent communication translates to participants feeling appreciated. They may also view trial site clinicians as more reliable and trustworthy. In the end, that trust yields higher retention and, consequently, stronger results.

Utilizing communication technologies to inform, educate, and empower

Poor communication in clinical trials can lead to hesitancy, distrust, and subject dropout. Roberts stated that effectively utilizing communication technologies, like smartphones, in clinical trials “informs, educates, and empowers.” Ultimately, communication technologies can enable higher levels of trust among participants.

Smartphones and similar devices are also important tools for addressing barriers to access. They can circumvent physical distance as an obstacle by virtually bringing trials to participants. They can also help clinicians identify disparities in healthcare access.

Further, communication technologies help streamline the informed consent process by providing clear, detailed answers to participants’ questions. Communication technologies are a powerful force in bridging gaps in accessibility, educating trial participants, and enabling trust.

Social media and the power of infectious trust

Social media plays a powerful role in shaping public perception. People are continually exposed to information through social media and often use it to research answers to questions they have. As such, it is critical to consider the role that the accuracy of information shared via social media (or lack thereof) could impact participants’ trust. In turn, trust can affect retention and a study’s effectiveness. 

Social media also has many benefits. For example, social media influencers can play an important role in amplifying trust. Collaborating with social media influencers is a creative way to increase clinicians’ reach to populations who may not even be aware of their eligibility for certain trials. 

Considering influencers’ power on consumer behavior to create what Burress called “infectious trust” may aid a trial site’s efforts at repairing hesitancy and addressing any concerns participants have.

Developing inclusive technology in any industry

At SeedSprint we facilitate collaboration between startups, universities, and corporations that fosters positive and sustainable change. 

While the J&J Innovation and Newlab Series on Diversity & Clinical Trials is focused on clinical trials, its themes resonate in product development for all industries. Innovators in technology areas from chemical and materials to software to transportation and beyond can learn from the panelists’ wisdom.

Understanding how to develop widely accessible technology that can benefit as many people as possible is essential to forging more inclusive innovation ecosystems. We must listen to the prospective beneficiaries of our technology, gain their trust, and empathize with their needs. In the end, their insights will help us develop solutions with the greatest impact.


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