There’s no question that change can be painful. 2020 was a year that spanned a range of seemingly endless challenges — sometimes it seemed far too many for a single 12-month time span. But among the difficulties and tragedy were signs of resiliency, hope, and growth. And with all of that came change.

Moving forward, clinical research will have new ways to reach and engage patients; a new outlook on what “patient centricity” really means; a stronger desire to eliminate the long-standing health inequities; and a more determined approach to continuing the mission of bringing health opportunities to a larger patient population than ever before.

We spent several months in 2020 sharing our perspective on the changes in the industry, and we’ve rounded them all up here:

Diversity in clinical trials is a very real challenge. How can we push for change? Beyond technology, awareness, and access, Global Genes’ Christian Rubio stated it well: “When we demonstrate openness by asking questions, we show our willingness to challenge our assumptions inside and outside the research conversation, and that builds trust with better engagement as the metric. That’s how we’ll close the gap in diversity in clinical research. It won’t come quickly, but we have to start.”

When trade shows began cancelling or moving online in response to the pandemic this year, our clients asked: How do we continue to reach and engage with our audiences? One successful solution we offered our clients was a virtual booth, with personalized avatars, plenty of content, and a way to directly communicate and interact with their audiences. We’re continuing to improve, expand, and grow, making our original virtual booth a virtual venue, offering even more engagement to help our clients truly showcase their brands in the digital “trade show” space. Our virtual venue features assets like meeting, presentation, and poster rooms; webinars and podcasts; deeper integration into your CRM; and more.

This past year, telemedicine usage rapidly rose in clinical research as travel restrictions and safety concerns limited the potential to reach patients in person. During our “Be the Comeback” social media challenge this summer, Synteract’s Steve Powell said, “The pandemic has really forced the industry to start using technologies more effectively.” But he noted that, moving forward, clinical research needs to continue to expand beyond only telemedicine, to include options like home network and patient concierge, as well. Steve said, “We’ve seen the technology that’s available to us and being able to utilize it effectively is really what excites us in the next stage of [clinical research] development.”

Enrollment has always been a challenge in clinical research. With global attention on the pandemic this year, more people than ever are now aware of the importance of clinical trials for the safe development of new treatments. Between awareness, removal of barriers to access, and increasing technological options, moving forward we can work together to take steps to improve enrollment — so future public health crises can be minimized.

Clinical research has always been a slow-to-evolve industry. This year forced its hand — ideas and technologies that had been “something to aspire to” suddenly became “musts.” From remote monitoring to virtual trials and telehealth, 2020 drove rapid change. Of the shifts, patient centricity is paramount. While the industry has always talked about patient centricity, this year put patients solidly in the driver’s seat — for access, engagement, inclusion, diversity, and other considerations. As CATO SMS’ Mark Goldberg said, “Things that were in the ‘innovation’ quadrant or the ‘new idea’ quadrant have now been moved to almost a ‘business as usual’ quadrant.” Moving forward, true patient centricity will be one of the top priorities — and rightly so. Because patients are the reason for the entire industry.

When the pandemic unfolded, it didn’t mess around — everything happened at breakneck speed. Companies that were unprepared were floundering and in crisis mode, struggling to communicate effectively with their staff and clients. Our Roger Boutin shared a strategy to create a crisis communications plan — how to tackle a crisis with confidence, knowing that your team had a solid plan that could be executed at a moment’s notice. While we’re all hoping 2021 will be smooth sailing, it would be a mistake to assume we’ll never have another bumpy year. Plan ahead with a crisis comms plan.

At the start of 2020, few companies relied on video calls as their staple form of communication. Zoom? For most of us, that was just a sound a fast car made. But as offices were closed and travel and in-person contact became tightly restricted, video calls became the meeting rooms of our world. First, we had to grow comfortable sharing our faces on our colleagues’ screens … then we were doing the pajamas-on-the-bottom, business-dress-up-top … what’s ahead in 2021? Will we all be so comfortable that we’ll just be having meetings in our full pajamas?

As COVID-19 statistics began rolling in during 2020, one thing became strikingly apparent: More people of color were being negatively impacted than other populations, bringing the issue of health inequities into the public eye. The lack of diversity in clinical trials is nothing new — but now there is no excuse for our industry to not tackle it head-on and take steps toward correcting this as we move into 2021.

Employee burnout is a very real result of the pandemic. According to a recent article published by Forbes, 75% of people have experienced burnout at work and 40% say they’ve felt it during the pandemic specifically. Burnout can not only have serious emotional and physical effects on employees and staff, but a long-lasting impact on your company’s culture. At SCORR, we embrace our larger mission of improved health and well-being; not only for our clients and the industry they serve, but for our SCORR team as well. That’s why we closed at noon on Friday, October 9, in observance of World Mental Health Day. We recognize that our team is our biggest asset and, now more than ever, we need to support one another through our challenges and successes.

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy was a hot topic at the FDA’s 161st Meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee web conference. The initial findings of their COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Project focused on understanding public perceptions about COVID-19 vaccines and what information key audiences want as they determine whether to receive an approved/authorized vaccine. In order to build more confidence moving forward, and more enrollment in vaccine trials, companies will need to provide transparent communications with the public regarding the development process of their vaccine as well as trial results.

The pandemic has been a catalyst for change in more ways than one. With so many trials moving to decentralized or virtual settings, supply chain companies have been forced to rethink their global models. The vulnerability of all supply chains from a worldwide perspective was exposed. Moving forward, companies will need to have appropriate contingency plans in place to avoid any potential delays or impacts to shipments. By having a plan in place and readily available inventory in key markets with visibility across the extended area, it will be possible to consistently and reliably meet global demand regardless of any obstacles.

Traditional trade shows took a major hit in 2020. Safety concerns meant social distancing and travel restrictions were the norm, curtailing in-person trade shows and other events. Thanks to technology, companies quickly pivoted, shifting to online shows (assisted by solutions like our virtual booths and venues) and boosting other digital marketing tactics. For example, our newly released 2020 Marketing Trends Survey shows that 38% of survey participants moved funds to webinars and podcasts to cover for the loss of trade shows. Moving into 2021, in-person events will undoubtedly be slow to resume — and digital alternatives may be more prevalent than ever before, regardless. You can read our full report here.

To say 2020 was challenging is a tremendous understatement. While the pandemic was the biggest global disruption of our lifetimes to date, there were so many other obstacles that people around the world needed to hurdle, too. Civil unrest. Political divides. Broken supply chains. But even as we have become almost habituated to the pandemic and the other challenges … the growing respect for human resilience is overwhelming. Amid all the turmoil and even pain, there have been countless stories of good; people helping people in ways that keep us all hopeful and moving forward, battered but not broken. Here’s to 2021 — and although we know life will never be without its share of struggles, we know now, more than ever, that we WILL get through it, together.

At SCORR, we know we’re incredibly fortunate to be able to work with clients who are actively making change happen in the clinical research industry. Although 2020 was a tough year, we’ve been inspired by our clients as they’ve found new ways to engage patients, keep critical trials running, and drive change. As our industry continues to evolve, we’re proud to be right alongside our clients, helping them get their voices heard and their stories told — onward into the future.

About the Author

Haley Steinhardt
Haley Steinhardt

Director of Thought Leadership, Content & PR Strategy

Haley is a marketing expert and content specialist with 18+ years of experience building brands and promoting thought leaders. As Director of Content and Thought Leadership for SCORR, Haley supports clients in optimizing their voice and presence to reach their target audience meaningfully and effectively through content creation and management, PR and advertising direction, social media and website strategizing, and more.