Communication Redefined

October 2, 2008

Applied Clinical Trials Supplements

Supplements-10-02-2008, Volume 0, Issue 0

How the Web revolutionizes sharing and learning for clinical trial professionals.

In July 2008, Octagon Research Solutions, Inc., announced a new blog and discussion forum on their Web site (www.octagonresearch.com) that focuses on EDC and electronic data standards. As hosts of the discussion forum and authors of the blog, Dawn and I (Dan) feel we have a lot to share with our colleagues in the clinical data profession since we have been around industry for a while, having written white papers and given presentations to audiences on various clinical data topics. But we really wanted to find a more informal venue to start talking about how clinical data standards and EDC are changing our industry. And we wanted to find a quick and convenient way to share information and make it readily available to those who may be considering implementing electronic clinical data standards within their organizations or may be evaluating EDC.

Dan Crawford is director of clinical data strategies and Dawn Kaminski is EDC product consultant, EDC operations, for Octagon Research Solutions.

An effective medium

I think I can safely speak for both of us when I say that we strongly believe in the power of standards in the automation of the clinical data lifecycle. We have seen companies face the challenges and reap the benefits of implementing standards and without fail, there is always a recurring benefit in time and cost savings that results from a successful implementation. But you may think that a blog and a discussion forum seem like an odd medium to discuss such topics. When talking to our clients and colleagues within the industry, however, we began to see that life science professionals are accessing multiple online sources for information. Social networking sites are becoming increasingly important in industry for three important reasons:

  • They provide a simple mechanism for communication

  • They provide resources and specific knowledge sharing opportunities

  • They are a great source of networking opportunities

The blog and discussion forum also provide us with a platform to speak to various levels of expertise. The two topics we cover are emerging topics that are constantly evolving. As they evolve, there is a great deal of debate going on within industry regarding:

  • How do you implement?

  • What is the best practice?

  • How do small companies cope with resource constraints?

  • What are the options and what is the best path forward for my organization?

These are all questions that are best answered by the voice of experience, and since we can't travel all over the world to have these significant conversations we can use the Web to facilitate them. We hope to motivate our colleagues to question traditional approaches and seek new solutions for old problems. There are many ways to approach EDC, but a company should understand the potential challenges that may occur due to a lack of planning or lackluster project management. These issues are real and completely avoidable. Through the blog and the discussion forum, we can offer insight into warning signs, best practices, and nontraditional approaches that will guide companies to success.

Dawn's point of view

Blogs and discussion forums have become an incredibly powerful communication tool, particularly within life science's technology space. From the user perspective, you have 24 hour access to a network of industry contacts around the world. You can drive conversation topics and gain enormous insight into multiple topic areas. From our perspective, it allows us to engage with our colleagues and clients in an ongoing dialog that should help raise awareness and understanding of the topics. By increasing understanding, we are also elevating the conversation so that we can begin to address broader, more critical issues such as compliance and technology's return on investment.

One great aspect of having a discussion group is that people who register to participate can do so at any time or any place they see fit. They can choose to become very active or simply monitor the discussions until a topic emerges that interests them. Registered participants usually have common interests, a baseline understanding of the topic (or a willingness to learn more about it), and may have common experiences that they wish to share with colleagues. This sets the stage for very collaborative and interactive discussions where everyone usually ends up learning something new.

Discussion forums also provide an environment that is, at its core, collaborative. During the course of daily events you may not have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of a competing pharmaceutical company that has implemented an EDC system for Phase I studies. However, by accessing a discussion forum, you are entering a level playing field where interaction is encouraged and learning from others' experiences is accepted and expected. You can ask the questions you may hesitate to ask through other venues (like how do I know when to implement EDC?) or ask the tough questions that you can be sure others have already faced (How do I get management to buy in to EDC implementation?).

Maintaining our blog

When we decided to launch the blog and discussion forum we debated the issue of how best to maintain fresh content so that conversation threads would continue to grow in a healthy manner. At this point in history, there is a great deal of activity around EDC and the larger electronic clinical data lifecycle. We believe that by creating and encouraging an active community, we will enable the dialog to progress at a rapid pace.

Along with enabling professionals to engage with each other in meaningful discussions, the forum also allows us to better understand our audience. With a blog or discussion forum, you can look at the number of responses and the types of responses and very quickly discern where your audience is focusing their time and effort and what issues keep them awake at night.

As the authors of the blog and hosts of the discussion forum, it is our responsibility to make sure that participants remain on topic and maintain a constructive environment for idea exchanges. As we provide better, practical information we'll attract more visitors willing to share their knowledge and experiences. This, in turn, helps raise the bar on the quality of the postings and the information being shared.

By using these types of social media, we have a greater ability to communicate and collaborate and as a result, we can better serve our industry colleagues.

Dan Crawford is director of clinical data strategies and Dawn Kaminski is EDC product consultant, EDC operations, for Octagon Research Solutions.

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