An in-person investigator meeting continues to be the primary method for training investigators and site personnel participating in a clinical trial — and for good reason. In-person meetings facilitate peer-to-peer learning that enables experienced investigators to share their knowledge and experience with colleagues who may be new to clinical research. When researchers discuss protocol-specific subjects directly with the biopharmaceutical company sponsoring the clinical trial, they receive instant feedback on their questions and concerns. On a more intangible level, in-person meetings can create a sense of camaraderie that fosters better cooperation between sponsor company and research sites.

The high cost of in-person meetings, however, is a stumbling block for many sponsor companies, especially in today’s economic landscape. Investigators must travel to a meeting site from their offices, ringing up hefty travel costs plus the additional expenses from a multi-day conference. Investments in these meetings vary by company, but a typical series of Phase III investigator meetings in support of a global clinical study can cost as much as $1 million to execute.

Sponsors also need to consider the effectiveness of conveying information via one live presentation after another — commonly called “death by PowerPoint.” Just because people show up to these meetings, there is no way to ascertain how much they retain the teachings or use the new knowledge in their day-to-day work conducting the study. An effective in-person meeting should include interactive methods to add interest to meetings, such as audience-response systems, panel discussions and small group breakout sessions.

Thought should be given to the training objectives of the in-person meeting, and some of these objectives may be best met through other formats. In recent years, innovations in technology have made it easier and less expensive for biopharmaceutical companies to educate site investigators using web conferencing, e-learning and other virtual technologies. Through these technologies, companies can roll out training about their specific clinical trial protocols rapidly and meet more often with investigators than in-person meetings would permit. However, these benefits are only as good as the quality of the connection, and not every interaction can be effectively completed in a virtual environment.

Virtual meetings, real benefits

Virtual meetings require meticulous planning and extensive technical support, but when properly implemented they can deliver real benefits to biopharma and investigators alike. They cost less, require less time on the part of leaders and participants, and have historically higher attendance rates, particularly among primary investigators. They can also be expanded to include a broader audience — in-person meetings are typically limited to two people per site whereas virtual meetings are open to everyone at the site that will be involved in the study.

We’ve seen several benefits of virtual meetings, including one global biopharmaceutical company that needed to provide training to principal investigators, study coordinators and clinical research assistants for a clinical trial at more than 200 sites across North America in less than a month. By choosing a virtual environment, they were able to successfully train 275 attendees for one-tenth the cost of similar-sized, in-person training events. In addition the event tracked “very high” in content retention and received high marks for presentation.

In this case, a virtual investigator meeting was just what the doctor ordered.

Consider a multichannel approach

To determine the best format for achieving sponsor and investigator needs, organizers should first identify the goals of the meeting, then decide whether these objectives are best addressed through a virtual event, an in-person meeting, self-paced e-learning, or some combination. All of these channels have their own benefits of ensuring productive engagement with sites, and in many cases a multichannel strategy that combines on-site and remote sessions in a single live training event may be the best option.For multichannel options, companies should consider the following to promote high attendance and keep participants engaged, no matter which format they choose:

  • Engage with participants ahead of the meeting (in-person or virtual).
  • Ensure the agenda, technology and content are cohesive and focused on the key learning objectives.
  • Coach and rehearse with the presenter, who may be an expert in clinical trials but not an experienced speaker. Confirm the presenter is comfortable with the meeting format and the technology he/she will be using.
  • Allow for plenty of interaction between presenters and attendees.
  • Use short presentations with clear learning points, videos and animations.
  • Employ multiple mechanisms to connect with the audience such as quizzes, pre-meeting polls, Q&A sessions and breakout meetings.

By leveraging a variety of channels to prepare investigators for a clinical trial, companies not only may save many thousands of dollars per meeting but also provide effective training to help run more efficient, compliant and successful trials.