Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What (If Anything) Improves Site Enrollment Performance?

ENACCT has released its final report on the outcomes from the National Cancer Clinical Trials Pilot Breakthrough Collaborative (NCCTBC), a pilot program to systematically identify and implement better enrollment practices at five US clinical trial sites. Buried after the glowing testimonials and optimistic assessments is a grim bottom line: the pilot program didn't work.

Here are the monthly clinical trial accruals at each of the 5 sites. The dashed lines mark when the pilots were implemented:

4 of the 5 sites showed no discernible improvement. The one site that did show increasing enrollment appears to have been improving before any of the interventions kicked in.

This is a painful but important result for anyone involved in clinical research today, because the improvements put in place through the NCCTBC process were the product of an intensive, customized approach. Each site had 3 multi-day learning sessions to map out and test specific improvements to their internal communications and processes (a total of 52 hours of workshops). In addition, each site was provided tracking tools and assigned a coach to assist them with specific accrual issues.

That’s an extremely large investment of time and expertise for each site. If the results had been positive, it would have been difficult to project how NCCTBC could be scaled up to work at the thousands of research sites across the country. Unfortunately, we don’t even have that problem: the needle simple did not move.

While ENACCT plans a second round of pilot sites, I think we need to face a more sobering reality: we cannot squeeze more patients out of sites through training and process improvements. It is widely believed in the clinical research industry that sites are low-efficiency bottlenecks in the enrollment process. If we could just "fix" them, the thinking goes – streamline their workflow, improve their motivation – we could quickly improve the speed at which our trials complete. The data from the NCCTBC paints an entirely different picture, though. It shows us that even when we pour large amounts of time and effort into a tailored program of "evidence and practice-based changes", our enrollment ROI may be nonexistent.

I applaud the ENACCT team for this pilot, and especially for sharing the full monthly enrollment totals at each site. This data should cause clinical development teams everywhere to pause and reassess their beliefs about site enrollment performance and how to improve it.

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