Referral Partner Integration: Maximize the Efficiency of Patient Referrals


A win-win-win for sites, sponsors, and referral partners.

Recruiting and enrolling participants is a challenging step in the clinical trial process that greatly impacts overall trial performance. With this in mind, many sponsors use patient referral vendors to supplement their recruitment funnel and meet their enrollment goals. While it makes sense on paper, increasing the number of patient referrals doesn’t guarantee success. Research site staff are often overextended and provided myriad disconnected tools to manage enrollment. When combined with inefficient communication between sponsors, sites, and referral partners, eligible patients can fall through the cracks and fail to enroll.

Rather than focusing on overloading the recruitment funnel, integrating a referral partner into a study workflow can maximize efficiency for everyone involved. Here, we will discuss how referral partner integration benefits study sponsors, trial sites, and referral vendors by increasing transparency throughout the recruitment process.

To understand how to integrate referral partners into a clinical trial workflow, we must first gather some background. An application programming interface (API) is a software intermediary that allows two or more applications to communicate. Referral partner integration is made possible by an API that specifically connects a clinical trial enrollment management platform to the software used by the trial’s referral partners . With referral partner integration, a sponsor’s recruitment partners can directly route and import a patient’s information into a site’s enrollment management platform. From there, sites, sponsors, and referral partners can all view and use the screening data in real time.

While there are many valuable referral partners and a variety of software solutions available for site- and sponsor- facing clinical trial management, connecting these platforms in a day-to-day workflow is laborious and inefficient without integration. With referral partner integration, sites and sponsors eliminate the need for separate or redundant trial management tools while keeping enrollment data moving in one consistent stream. Referral partners specialize in finding and engaging potential candidates for clinical trials, not building workflow optimization software for sites. Referral partner integration allows these partners to focus on the core parts of their business and the efficient use of their finite resources.

Referral partner integration can also increase the likelihood of successful future patient referrals by providing a valuable feedback loop. Referral partners can use shared, real-time data on each patient’s progress through trial screening to guide future efforts in referring suitable potential participants. It also ensures that the referrals they make are actually being processed instead of falling through administrative cracks. These lost referrals that arise from working in disparate referral and management platforms waste both time and money for referral partners and sponsors. More importantly, they can keep eligible patients from accessing potentially life-saving clinical trials.

So why should a sponsor invest in referral partner integration? Implementing this type of integration into a clinical trial can present an investment for sponsors, but like other clinical trial technology solutions, the investment can really pay off. Seamless communication between all parties can unlock timely insight into how a clinical trial is enrolling in the real world. In some instances, it may become apparent that the inclusion/exclusion criteria of the trial are too strict and need to be adjusted. Or perhaps the current protocols are limiting enrollment of a diverse pool of participants. Identifying these issues early gives sponsors a chance to make changes before it’s too late.

Additionally, incorporating referral partners directly into a clinical trial’s workflow can help sponsors enhance the value of working both with referral partners and research sites. Paying for referrals is a waste if they’re lost to administrative issues or aren’t a good fit for a trial, but referral partner integration makes sure sponsors get their money’s worth. By streamlining communication and referral reporting between referral partners, sites, and other stakeholders in the trial ecosystem such as CRAs, referral partner integration prevents patients from falling through the cracks and illuminates data about eligibility of referred patients.

It’s important to note that a clinical trial’s success depends on the workflow and capabilities of site staff. Unfortunately, site staff are often burdened with a wide variety of tasks and disparate tools for solving them. That’s what makes referral partner integration uniquely beneficial for site staff.

Instead of adding another tool for busy site staff to learn and integrate, this integration connects existing workflows by directly linking referrals with their enrollment management platform. This presents several opportunities to increase workflow efficiency and effectiveness at a trial site. First, this streamlined process helps to keep staff organized, alerting them to referrals and enrollment progress in one, clear, centralized place rather than in separate software platforms, assorted emails, or even coordinators’ paper notes. Referral partner integration also imports pre-screening data from referral partners, keeping this information in view. This provides a comprehensive overview of enrollment progress to keep track of each referred patient’s path through screening. This, in turn, benefits eligible patients, keeping them engaged throughout the recruitment process.

Referral partner integration also reduces administrative burden for site staff by eliminating re-keying of patient screening and enrollment information. Without this integration, staff are often tasked with redundant data entry while working between separate referral sources, sponsor-specific platforms, and site data management systems. Referral partner integration automatically imports referrals from multiple streams into a site’s tracking system. For systems that share data with sponsors, this type of integration also facilitates a seamless, error-free exchange of information between sites and sponsors.

Referral partner integration streamlines site staff workflow, increases enrollment efficiency, and provides access to data that can guide future recruitment and enrollment approaches. The benefits of referral partner integration for sponsors, referral partners, and site staff ultimately contribute to the primary goal that drives them all: getting treatment options to more patients, more effectively.

Jai Singh, SVP, Site Growth and Adoption at OneStudyTeam

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