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Clinical Trial Site Engagement: Merits of Face-to-Face and Virtual Meetings

Earlier this year, we published an article on the merits of face-to-face investigator meetings versus virtual meetings. There are pros and cons to both, but in today’s fast-paced competitive environment, the reality is both approaches are needed. As these debates continue to arise during client discussions, I thought to share some key elements.

Building relationships

If fostering a sense of community among site and sponsor staff is important at the stage of the clinical trial, then a face-to-face meeting may be more beneficial. This is also particularly important if many parts of the study are outsourced and direct site-to-sponsor contact may be minimal. Although the impact of strong relationships among site staff and sponsors on clinical trial completion is hard to measure, in our experience, clinical operations teams often cite it as one of the most important contributors to clinical trial success.

Knowledge acquisition

Timelines are critical to the success of any clinical trial, but unfortunately many fail to meet recruitment goals as originally planned. A face-to-face meeting where you can engage the site staff with in-depth dialogue is preferred to help ensure a complete understanding of the trial processes and procedures. In a virtual meeting environment, while questionnaires can be used to asses knowledge transfer, it can be difficult to gauge site staff knowledge acquisition given the lack the non-verbal and social cues that can be assessed through face-to-face interaction.

If delivery of key messages or learning objectives is more straightforward or dissemination of study information can be delivered in a short time frame, perhaps it is best to consider a virtual meeting. If more time is required because of the sensitivity or complexity of the content, or there are concerns that participants will not stay focused during the delivery of the material, then a longer face-to-face meeting is preferable (or possibly several virtual meetings).

Sharing and engaging

While virtual meetings offer forms of interaction, like polling, they are limited and don’t allow for the open and honest discussions that can be had in-person. Providing Investigators and Study Coordinators a face-to-face opportunity to discuss study-specific topics directly with the clinical trial sponsor is helpful in developing a better understanding of the “why” and not just the “what” of the study.

Ideally, multi-channel integrated communication and educational programs are recommended and both meeting formats (virtual and face-to-face) are valuable if used for the correct purpose to engage site staff and support with achieving clinical trial success.

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