Virtual Meetings Offer Solid Benefits for Investigators

The traditional approach to training investigators has some obvious problems. But many of them can be cured with Internet-based learning.
Apr 01, 2007
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

In today's world of clinical research today, almost every process is coming under scrutiny to see if it can be performed better, faster, or cheaper. One research activity that is ripe for re-engineering is the investigator meeting, which in its traditional form can be expensive, time-consuming, and less than effective.

The overriding mission of the investigator meeting is to prepare study site staff to enter patients into a new clinical trial. This is a training challenge—and a daunting one—as trials grow more complex and study sites increasingly vary in experience, competency, and location.

Unfortunately, investigator meetings have traditionally been organized for speed rather than quality and have seldom incorporated the basics of good training. But this is starting to change. In the last few years, the clinical research community has experimented with new approaches to investigator meetings, including the use of live Web conferences and Web-based training centers.

Enough practical experience has been accumulated that it's now possible to draw some conclusions about these new formats. The good news is that they can lower costs, save time, improve quality, and reach more of the target audience. Taken together, they have the potential to achieve one of the pharmaceutical industry's most basic goals: improved research productivity.

Meeting on the Web

Almost every large pharmaceutical company has conducted at least a pilot program of investigator meetings via Web conference or e-meeting. Most have had positive experiences, and most e-meeting programs are expanding. These meetings require careful planning plus extensive technical and production support. But when properly planned and implemented, they can deliver significant benefits, including:

Cost savings Without the need for air and ground travel, hotel lodging, dining, and so forth, a full-service e-meeting costs about one-fifth as much as a traditional on-site meeting. A single e-meeting typically yields savings in the range of $125,000 to $200,000. Across a large research program, savings can amount to $5 million to $10 million annually.

Convenience and preference By eliminating travel time, an e-meeting can save participants one to two workdays—a significant amount for busy VIP medical audiences. A database of evaluations filled out by more than 2,000 investigator e-meeting attendees showed that almost four out of five US investigators (79 percent) prefer the e-meeting format to on-site travel. The same database yielded positive scores on items such as "Was the information clearly presented and easy to follow?" (98.6 percent favorable), and "How was your overall experience?" (88.8 percent favorable).

High attendance rates It is possible to conduct e-meetings that generate attendance rates as high as or higher than traditional on-site meetings, that is, in the 90-100 percent range. But it is only likely to happen when the e-meeting is supported by a comprehensive invitation campaign. To some audiences, a "Web conference" can seem less important than an on-site meeting. To compensate for this bias, the invitation process needs to convey the importance of the meeting and include a series of reminder communications continued throughout the day of the event. At the same time, experience shows that e-meetings have a higher rate of participation by primary investigators and less substitution by sub-investigators.

Study team productivity Some study launch programs involve investigator meetings held in various regions of the world—consuming a great deal of time and causing significant wear and tear on study team members. A similar series of e-meetings would require only a fraction of the time and would enable the study team to pursue other goals.

Capturing and measuring attention The most common question about investigator e-meetings is "How do I know they're paying attention?" This is a fair concern, because e-meetings, especially long ones, can tax the attention span of participants. There are two strategies to address this concern:

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