Do More With Less: Set Your Site Up for Success Amidst the Great Resignation
Hospitals, academic medical centers and clinical research organizations often struggle to acquire and maintain the resources that they require to operate successfully. Healthcare workers have really seen the effect of this over the past couple of years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stressed and overworked frontline workers saw an increase in their demand to keep working, which coincided with national shortages of supplies and fluctuating availability of healthy personnel.
The U.S. labor market is now in an era that’s being called the Great Resignation, which began in early 2021 and has affected most industries. People are being asked to work in strenuous and dangerous times while feeling like their wages aren’t matching their effort, and as costs of living continue to rise. This is especially difficult in healthcare, where patients need to continue to be treated but workers should also be heard and given a fair work-life balance. And while COVID may have brought this issue to light, a lack of resources and employee satisfaction in the healthcare field has been an industry trend for some time. One data analysis of demand for healthcare workers predicted a critical shortage of 3.2 million healthcare employees by 2026 (1).
Clinical research is an area that’s generally negatively affected by this because it’s not as easy to see an immediate need for trials to keep running as compared to other areas like emergency medicine where a lack of resources becomes much more glaringly evident. Consequently, in times of funding droughts, hospitals may prioritize getting resources to those such departments. However, for many patients, the current standard of care just isn’t good enough and clinical trials should be seen as a clinical care option.
The Great Resignation: Causes and Effects
There are several factors worsening the effects of the Great Resignation on clinical research. While the rates of resignation among healthcare workers are at their highest and trending upward, the need for participants in trials is also on the rise. Simultaneously, the actual rates of patients enrolling in studies are at their lowest. All of this is coupled with the highest number of study starts ever results in a significant shortage of resources needed for effective clinical research to take place. So, we have a massive resignation rate, the most trials ever being launched leading to greater demand for participants, but a decrease in patients enrolling, creating a perfect storm for overly burdened research sites.
Since the onset of this trend in 2021, the group with the highest rates of resignations has been those with the most tenure. Healthcare workers and clinical researchers aged 40-60 years old, with at least a decade of experience, have left their jobs at higher rates than any other group. This adds to the toll taken on research sites as more training and oversight is required for younger, less experienced employees. Oncology trials, for example, often have very complex criteria and protocols which can take a lot of experience to learn how to monitor (2).
On top of the typical challenges healthcare workers are facing, clinical research associates (CRAs) also must travel between sites, adding to the potential for burnout. The turnover rate for CRAs is currently around 30% and job openings have increased by almost 10%. There are also limited opportunities for job growth and salary increases for CRAs, clinical research coordinators (CRCs), and project managers. This in conjunction with demanding workloads, strict clinical trial deadlines, and long hours to accommodate physician and patient schedules all add to the high rates of turnover for research professionals (3).
Staffing shortages in clinical research can majorly impact the trajectory of a trial and affect sites, sponsors, and patients. Sites need to meet specific study deadlines to adhere to start-up timelines and avoid delays in the submission and approval process for new therapies. The stress of understaffed research departments takes a toll on the little staff that they do have, which can eventually lead to their own burnout and resignation. Sponsors are also affected by this, with staffing shortages leading to potential delays in monitoring visits, allowing potential errors with the trial to continue without being spotted early on, again slowing the whole process down. And of course, a shortage of healthcare workers and researchers in turn negatively affects the care that is provided to patients. They may not be presented with trials that would greatly benefit their health outcomes if there are simply not enough people to run trials.
Technology as a Solution
Research organizations are now searching for solutions to these problems. They must decide how to most effectively prioritize where to invest the resources they do have to keep trials moving forward. Many community hospitals and smaller clinical research organizations (CROs) cannot afford to increase salaries. It’s also difficult to find people willing to work the hours that trial timelines demand. Making better use of technology is an incredibly efficient way to address issues research staff are facing. Research institutions urgently need to investigate technology solutions not only to solve these current issues, but also to be better prepared for future problems. Streamlining clunky and outdated processes using technology removes hours of unnecessary manual burden placed on CRCs, CRAs, managers, and administrators. Without integrated systems, data often must be input into multiple applications, creating repetitive and time-consuming work for staff. Providing the right technology for research staff not only improves productivity, but also boosts morale and job satisfaction.
Deep 6 AI provides this solution to healthcare organizations, life sciences companies, and any other research centers. The precision-matching solution, powered by advanced natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI), analyzes structured data, such as ICD-10 codes, and unstructured clinical data, such as doctor’s notes, pathology reports, operating notes, and other important medical data in free-text form. Using this technology, fragmented medical documents are turned into unified patient graphs that contain all the concepts needed to match complex clinical trial criteria. Within the application, users are shown evidence for each trial criterion to allow them to validate that a patient’s medical information matches that which is required for the trial. Entire study cohorts can be built and validated within minutes.
How does this help in the end? We’re able to find more patients across the health system’s entire patient population that better match trial criteria in minutes. The reduced load on staff time enables institutions to take on more studies and provide more care options for their patients. With Deep 6 AI’s platform, sites and sponsors can work together in a collaborative ecosystem to overcome all the challenges that staff shortages and overburdened hospitals present to the clinical research field.
Nour Malki, Communications and Content Specialist