How vHelp Can Support Medical Research and Clinical Trials

When we started vHelp during the first lockdown, we were focused on creating a solution to ensure volunteers were able to get reimbursed quickly - especially as they were completing large shopping trips for vulnerable people isolated within their homes and weren’t getting reimbursed swiftly.  We really connected with the problem and worked on ensuring volunteers’ expenses were getting paid securely and in a timely manner. 

However, we were recently approached by a medical research organisation that processes expenses for their clinical trial patients. The organisation has research participants travelling from all over the country to visit one of their four sites. We found out that paying expenses, such as travel and childcare, is a very important element in keeping research participants engaged throughout the study as recruiting clinical trial patients is a very costly and time-consuming process.  It is also an essential consideration for organisations committed to recruiting a more diverse audience for their trials. In this article, we will be covering how vHelp can support medical research trials.

How vHelp Can Support Medical Research

As we started looking into medical research organisations we found their expenses reimbursement process, similar to charities, is mostly manual. This is mainly because there weren’t any services out there that support sporadic reimbursement of expenses until vHelp came along.  

Some of those organisations still process expense payments through physical forms and they send out cheques every month - one organisation can process around 1000 cheques a month and sends them out in the post. It’s daunting to think of the amount of admin required but not only that; you’ve got to think of the cost of stationery and postage which, in our example alone, comes to around £850 a month.  

Ways That vHelp Can Support Reimbursing Medical Participants’ Expenses

During covid, some organisations started processing payments via bank transfer but again stored all participants’ details in spreadsheets and processed each payment individually. Some clinical trial organisations pass on all the data to their accountant to process the payments, which is a very costly process as the accountant is asked to do a basic admin job.  

Through our market research, we also discovered that recruiting patients for clinical trials is a challenging, time-consuming, and expensive task. One of the main reasons is that approximately 30% of patients drop out of clinical trials. A factor that can help retain those involved in clinical trials and medical research, in general, is paying expenses promptly. 

The good news is all the medical research organisations we’ve spoken to tend to pay expenses, as the National Institute for Health and Care Research recommends organisations cover any expenses their research participants incur when involved in medical research. The NIHR also strongly recommends the following: 

  • Clearly explain the process of claiming expenses and the likely timing of when payment will be received
  • Where possible, pay for expenses in advance to avoid members of the public having to wait for reimbursement
  • Reimbursement of expenses should be processed promptly
  • Offer support to members of the public in the form of documentary evidence of any payment for involvement or expenses, so that they have information to provide to tax or benefits authorities

Reimbursing expenses quickly can also help with inclusion. Parexel carried out a global survey to engage relevant players in a discussion about the topic of racial and ethnic diversity in clinical trials. One of their recommendations was 

“Consistent reimbursement for time and travel and centering research around patient convenience could greatly improve research access”

They also state that “financial and other practical barriers, such as childcare and transportation, can pose challenges to trial participation regardless of race and ethnicity. Still, such barriers were highlighted by a greater proportion of Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous research participants than white respondents”.

vHelp offers medical research organisations and clinical trial organisers the ability to reimburse expenses quickly and securely, whilst providing the organisation with a full reporting dashboard. Here are some of the benefits vHelp can bring to the sector:

  • The research participant/trial patient can get reimbursed for their expenses within 24 hours
  • Provide the patient with access to their claims data through our dashboard to help them provide evidence of expenses should they need it
  • Provide the medical research organisation with a state-of-the-art web dashboard to help with reporting and keeping a full audit trail of expenses activities 
  • Support research organisers become more inclusive, as research shows reimbursing expenses quickly helps with the inclusion of people from various backgrounds 

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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