By Ed Miseta, Chief Editor, Clinical Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @EdClinical
Implementing new clinical technologies can be a difficult endeavor. Getting your employees to accept and use the new technology can be an even greater challenge. Aversion to change and the reluctance to give up trusted methods and habits can doom any new technology installation.
In this follow-up article based on my discussion with Gary Gentry, executive director for consulting firm Cirrus Clinical Services, Gentry explores why personnel are reluctant to change, and what you can do to demonstrate the benefits of a new technology, speed adoption, and make you installation a success.
Miseta: Why do so many small- to mid-sized companies struggle with adopting new technology solutions?
Gentry: I am seeing a lot of small companies in need of cloud-based solutions that standardize how things should be done. In the past, a CTMS solution may have been unaffordable to a small company. But today, the basic functionality you used to get from an expensive system can now be obtained via a much less expensive cloud-based solution. And there is often this notion that “hey, every trial operation needs a xxx system, and here’s a new cloud service that’s practically free. We’re done!” Successful programs are almost always more about process, management, and changing behaviors to get better business outcomes. Technology is just a part of that, and usually not the most important part. I also think a big part of the struggle here is there is a natural tendency with technology acquisition, as well as clinical operations, to focus more on tracking what has happened, where the real emphasis should be on using technology to impact changes to behavior. This idea often manifests in reliance on dashboards or reporting tools for management to understand what’s going on. However, understanding what happened is completely useless until it is somehow translated to action. What is really needed is for these tools to do or tell you what to do differently to improve something, not just inform you about it.
Simply changing the focus from “how do we track what happened” to “what specifically should we do next based on what’s happened already” can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of adopting technology that is accountable to business outcomes. One of our biggest messages to clients is always implement technology that drives the behavior that gets you desired outcomes, not technology that tracks past actions.
Miseta: Many executives seem reluctant to accept new technologies, oftentimes continuing to use spreadsheets to manage functions that could easily be automated. Is that trend changing?
Gentry: I still see a lot of that, and it’s not just in the life sciences. It can be very difficult to pry Excel spreadsheets away from a lot of people because they are so comfortable using them. They also make users feel they have control over what they're working on. What we’re asking them to do is give up something they have been using for a long time and put their trust in a black box to provide the same functionality. It can be a tough sell. Most of the time the fears are unfounded, but it can still be difficult to get people to change and adapt to a new way of doing things.
Miseta: How do you convince users that the change being implemented is good for them?
Gentry: I think first and foremost it’s important to understand up front that regardless of the theoretical or long-term benefits of any technology project, successful adoption will ultimately come down to whether individual users see a direct and immediate benefit. Often it is too easy for users to revert to the most comfortable or natural way to do something, which is the way they’ve always done it. Habits can be hard to break and the best way to do it is to create a new habit to replace the old one.
Most technology firms will try to sell to senior decision makers within an organization and often ignore the end users who are so key to its adoption. One of the reasons that systems integrators and solutions providers fail is that they get wrapped up in the whiz-bang features and fail to focus on providing immediate value to end users. Slick data visualizations are big selling points for executives, but if the data behind the visualizations are inaccurate or incomplete, or if they force a user to find a workaround to get their job done, they are not helpful in real-time decision making. You want users to understand how the technology benefits them in their daily work. That is the key to any successful adoption. Sometimes users won’t abandon a new solution; they will simply not use it effectively, which can be even worse. The biggest mistake we can make is throwing a new technology out there and assuming people will want to use it because of some compelling features.
Miseta: What is the best way for pharma companies to promote new technologies to users?
Gentry: In today’s world, technology is evolving quickly and we have many new gadgets that simply did not exist just a decade ago. I also think we have been trained to focus on the new features, functions, and capabilities of a product. But what we should really be focused on is implementation, product roll out, and change management, which is much more important to achieving desired outcomes. When deploying a new technology, it’s important to have a very deliberate and focused plan in place for how you are going to get users up-and-running and adopting the new technology. Training is part of the process, but there is also a soft side to it. People have emotional attachments to the tools they use every day. You really have to appreciate that and know how to overcome objections and help users understand the value they will get from a new technology. If you can’t demonstrate those benefits right up front, you will certainly fail. It all comes down to effective communication and training.
Miseta: Any other opportunities you see on the horizon?
Gentry: One other trend we believe will have a big impact on clinical trials of the future is progress being made to better connect patients to trials. I believe there is a real need to change the focus of clinical studies towards the interests and needs of patients who are so critical to the success of trials.
The data on ClinicalTrials.gov is publically available, and this has resulted in a rash of new systems available to do just that. But rather than having patients simply perform searches on various sites, we are working on not just matching potential patients to trials, but converting patients to trial participants. ClinicalTrials.gov is focused on publishing data on trials for people in the industry. What we need is something that is much more focused on the needs and interests of patients. We are looking at that very closely and the goal is to streamline recruitment and reduce the cost of enrollment. We want to use technology wisely to create a better experience for the participants. This is an area where we must see improvement. Billions of dollars are spent every year trying to recruit patients and, right now, at least 10 percent of that spending is wasteful.
Come hear Gary Gentry speak about technology adoption at Clinical Leader Forum, May 9-10, 2018 in Philadelphia. Click here for details.