Martha Ann Raymond, MA, on What Providers Should Do to Enhance Clinical Trial Participation in the COVID-19 Era

The founding executive director of the GI Cancers Alliance discussed important takeaways from a study of patient perspectives of clinical trial participation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on a survey of patient perspectives of clinical trial participation during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, investigators suggested it will take a collaborative effort from the entire cancer community to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on clinical trial participation.

The study, presented at the 2021 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium, included a total of 511 patients who participated in an 8-week online survey and set of interviews. Ultimately, 86% reported their health care team had not discussed trial participation, 99% reported being comfortable with telehealth visits for pre-screening and monitoring, and 82% reported receiving care at community-based hospitals.

Barriers to trial enrollment and additional safety considerations identified by the survey included gaps in outreach and education services for ethnically diverse communities, an absence of cultural sensitivity and disregard of historical perspective, financial insecurity and travel, as well as the need for increased COVID-19 testing, enhanced safety protocols, and a proven vaccine.

In an interview with CancerNetwork®, Martha Ann Raymond, MA, founding executive director of the GI Cancers Alliance, highlighted what she believes health care providers should take away from this study.


I think with health care providers, one of the main things that our research has pointed to is the need for that patient-centered communication as part of patient-centered care. So many of the individuals in our studies mentioned the fact that if their oncologists had brought up “X-Y-Z” trial or mentioned the possibility of a trial, not just the good and the bad [but] all of the different aspects of a trial, patients would be more comfortable. Again, it’s going back to building trust by creating a strong relationship. And when I chat with patients every day, when we get on this topic, I always go back to a “good relationship,” whether it’s with a spouse, or a child, or a friend. You build that relationship, and with it comes the trust. I think that’s the same thing with a health care professional…it [can’t] happen immediately, like with any relationship. It’ll take a little bit of time; but in doing so, putting that work in is incredibly important.

That’s one thing I would say we learned from our survey and interviews, that patients are looking for that connection. They’re looking for that relationship, and they’re looking to be heard. Another big thing is that they feel sometimes that they’ll mention something, or they’ll have their list of questions—we always advocate for patients to bring in [questions]—and sometimes they feel like they’re not being heard. Again, I know it’s difficult, there’s a short amount of time and things. But I do think even in the exam room, if there’s not time to answer all questions, maybe there’s a way that the health care professional could point to an advocacy group or a support group for additional information for the patient. So again, I would say communication is so important [and] making sure the patient understands [should be] at the center of that communication. And then that will develop the relationship and build trust along the way.

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