The importance of community hospitals’ participation in clinical research

Community hospitals can begin to take on increased roles in clinical research and, in doing so, significantly expand the patient population that can access various studies.

We know that, for example, community-based cancer research is immensely valuable, but the wider benefits are numerous to all stakeholders, including patients, providers, and researchers.

This opportunity, if taken advantage of, would represent an important step forward in life sciences research and overall healthcare.

The role of academic hospitals

Academic hospitals are inherently geared toward basic life sciences and clinical research and will always play an important part in medical advancement. But some academic hospitals receive so many solicitations for participants in clinical trials and other research projects that they simply do not have the ability to identify enough patients for the studies. This can result in significant delays for the researchers.

Additionally, the patients who they typically see have often been on complex treatment regimens, which make them ineligible for many studies. And many patients are unable to be treated at advanced medical facilities due to geographic limitations. Increasingly, patients, especially those with chronic conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, are treated in community hospitals rather than academic hospitals — a trend that is further promoted by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Health, for example, are encouraging researchers developing new treatments to do so in diverse populations and to make their studies inclusive, specifically as it pertains to the underprivileged and to ethnic diversity.

Why the time is right for research in community hospitals

The primary focus for community healthcare institutions will always be providing care for their patients, and sometimes, research is perceived as an impediment to that focus because without dedicated research teams, it can cause increased workload on the hospital personnel.

Luckily, it doesn't. At least, it doesn't have to.

For one, promoting medical advances and giving patients access to research already align with the mission of hospitals because in the long run, those efforts result in better care for patients. They will result in faster development of new medicines and treatments, too — all while not requiring hospitals to change what they do or how they do it. It's a win for all stakeholders.

Not only does research align with community hospitals' goals, but there are also monetary and reputation benefits for community institutions to participate in research. Grants from public and private sources can provide a significant secondary source of revenue, making hospital administrators' jobs easier and reducing the burden on them to raise funds.

Just as importantly, for patients who have the option to choose where to receive care, going to institutions that are on the cutting edge of medical practice is highly desirable. Such institutions are more likely to attract the best physicians, who are more knowledgeable and more experienced. Simply put, patients feel more comfortable with better physicians.

Perhaps most importantly, studies show that healthcare has the best outcome when people are closer to friends, family, and other parts of their support networks. Bringing research to these settings enables it to happen in the best possible care environment for patients. And what's best for the patient is best for the hospital.

How to facilitate expanding research to community hospitals

If hospitals understand their resources and ensure institutional commitment before embarking on basic research projects or clinical trials, they can set themselves up for success.

Novel technology solutions can ensure that clinical research fits in seamlessly with hospitals' daily workflows, leveraging electronic medical records and other IT platforms to automate any manual steps. Applying those new technologies and methodologies can automate data collection — both clinical information and biospecimens — from diverse populations, often without any additional visits to a doctor.

Medical charts and health records can be screened automatically to identify patients who might qualify for research projects and to track patients' interest in participating and consent to participate. Implementing such novel technology solutions is now possible, and it would prove beneficial to community hospitals' research efforts. Meanwhile, patients would notice no deviation in the care they receive.

Strong community care settings are a critical component of the transformation to a more open and inclusive research community. Streamlined IT solutions and mindfulness of existing workflows can make this straightforward and minimally burdensome on healthcare providers. Above all, enabling willing patients to participate in research will hasten the pace of medical advancement.

Kate Torchilin, Ph.D., is CEO of Novaseek Research, a health technology company that matches consenting patients with healthcare organizations, sharing biospecimens and clinical data to meet research needs. Kate has a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Tufts University.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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