September 15, 2021
Leaving the Airport Behind: How Technology Changed My Life as a Clinical Research Associate
Industry Expert & Former CRAGuest
Over the last few years, my life as a clinical research associate (CRA) changed in ways I never thought possible. Pre-pandemic, if I needed to be onsite, I’d be up at 3 a.m. to catch a plane for a busy day monitoring. After I’d found a space onsite for my laptop (not always easy), my day would involve monitoring and cross-referencing data with medical records and a range of smaller tasks, such as checking the pharmacy for drug stock and staff training.
Fast-forward to 2020… my travel agenda came to a standstill. The pandemic has irrevocably changed how trials and site staff operate.
Let’s put it this way: when I started as a CRA five years ago, about 20% of my sites used remote monitoring. Now it’s more like 80%. CRAs can now monitor trials from the comfort of home, supported by the technology options that have sprung up to accommodate this huge industry shift.
The Role of a CRA – Always Ready to Run
I refer to being a CRA like being an Olympic sprinter. You always need to be ready to go; a call can come at any time. The pressure on CRAs is enormous because lives are at stake, and we need to be as accurate as possible. Any technology that can make daily life more efficient is very welcome.
While the pandemic is a catalyst, the move towards remote monitoring has been happening – albeit slowly – for a few years now. But over the last couple of years, solutions such as predictive analytics, real-time monitoring and wearables have become essential to CRAs’ lives. We even have sensors that tell us (anonymously of course) if a patient has taken a drug or not.
Here’s a quick example of just how much life as a CRA has changed.
A few months ago, I was working at home monitoring a patient onsite. The patient was having some laboratory samples that day, but the nurse was using the incorrect kit. I checked on my laptop to see which tests were missing and reached out to the nurse to alert her of the mistake. Luckily, she used the right kit and avoided a potential protocol deviation.
Now, if she’d used the wrong kit, the sample would be lost, or the patient would be requested to come back to the site and have the sample retaken. Depending on the patient’s availability, this reschedule could be inside the protocol visit window – or not if the patient had taken longer to return to the site.
Communicating in real-time with site staff from my sofa in such a way would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago and shows how fast the industry can move under pressure.
Goodbye Paper Protocols, Hello Teckro
Until recently, the site communication flow worked like this: investigators would contact CRAs. CRAs would contact sponsors. Sponsors would contact CRAs, and CRAs would then go back to investigators. Throw different time zones into the mix and it’s no wonder it took so long for site staff to get answers.
I was motivated to join Teckro because the lack of immediate access to the key clinical trial document – the protocol – was the main driver of this communication bottleneck. It’s an understatement to say that it’s not easy to learn a 180-page document by heart. It is time-consuming and difficult to locate paper protocols – especially when there have been three to four amendments during a trial. It can be so difficult to remember how many versions there are and whether the documents are up to date.
I remember a principal investigator in Spain who was surrounded by something like 15 paper protocols. She was trying to find the specific protocol for a patient visit and was a bit panicked that she couldn’t find it quickly. When I explained that she could access the protocol from her device with Teckro, let’s just say I’ve never seen such a look of relief on someone’s face!
Having the protocol digitally in their pockets and being able to contact study experts on demand means that investigators don’t need to wait for a CRA to respond to an email or return a phone call. Instead, research staff can engage with a medical expert by simply opening Teckro and initiating a conversation. Typically, one of the experts in the group responds back in a matter of minutes. The time zone doesn’t matter, and they no longer need to rely on just one person for the response.
This isn’t just convenient for site staff but it’s also safer and more efficient for the patients. And for CRAs this is game-changing. We have more confidence and control because potential risks can be spotted before they’ve happened, and this helps to relieve stress.
Teckro the Answer – for Me
I loved working as a CRA, but I must admit that sometimes I found the industry a bit archaic.
When I learned about Teckro, I thought "Well, this is what we need in clinical trials. It's going to be a blast; I’d better be onboard!" I saw the value immediately and believed in the mission (and still do believe). I predict that soon every single trial will be using Teckro.
When working in a fast-moving environment like clinical research, CRAs must be ready to adapt to wider industry changes. Clinical research has been transformed over the last few years and one day is never the same as the next. Once we’ve progressed, we can never go back. I’m so excited to see how Teckro is helping and supporting my former colleagues. When I decided Teckro was the answer, I've not looked back!
Industry Expert & Former CRAGuest
Maria is a former CRA passionate about the plight of clinical research site staff. She is also the founder at CRA Connect, a safe online space where Clinical Research Associates connect, ask questions, share knowledge and have a voice