Collaborative Research in Clinical Medicine

Dr. Sanjaya Kumara, Lead Clinical Specialist, Philips Healthcare‘In an era when great ideas can sprout from any corner of the world, and IT has dramatically reduced the cost and time of accessing them, it is now conventional wisdom that virtually no company should or even try to innovate everything on its own’. This statement from the Harvard Business Review series on collaboration underpin the fact that no one company or set of individuals (even to a personal level) can or even hope to ‘rediscover and solve issues or innovate’ on every front relevant to them.Healthcare is a field where vast strides in technology in every sense have been made that have benefitted healthcare professionals in highly positive ways. However, neither the industries bringing technology into healthcare nor the professionals who practice healthcare can or could have done it on their own nor the mantra connecting them is clinical collaboration.

Clinical research conducted in collaboration with healthcare institutions and academic centers of excellence falls in the purview of collaborative clinical research. This kind of collaboration between the relative diverse fields such as technology and healthcare provision and delivery has been the force bringing the benefits of technological advancement to the patients who are the true end consumers. This is true in every country across the globe. The healthcare system in our country has been long plagued by siloed ways of working and lack of true collaborative spirit. For an improved healthcare sector, we need more research scholars in India. One effective way of doing this is through collaborative research, where technology focused companies can collaborate and innovate with healthcare providers such as hospitals, healthcare professionals and academicians. This approach will confer multiple advantages in addition to enabling a better ecosystem with opportunities for advanced research and innovation.

Collaborative Clinical Research in India
The last two to three decades have seen an unprecedented growth in collaborative activities for clinical research. Many global players in the field of healthcare technology have set up vast development houses in India. In their path towards growth and improvement, many of such centers which probably started as ‘warm body shops’ for benefitting from availability of great IT talent at low costs, have today become innovative product organizations that conceive, design, manufacture and sell and maintain innovative solutions that have a ‘strong local relevance’ and a significant 'global importance'. It is readily evident in today’s top of the line hospitals and healthcare institutions that many departments and staff across the healthcare delivery hierarchy are actively engaged in many programs of collaborative clinical research with numerous companies on the axis of healthcare technology. These trends are relatively new and mostly unknown prior to the last 20 years. The outlook for collaborative research however looks bright.
Topics for Collaborative Clinical Research Projects
Following are the most common types of research projects we get to see in the arena of collaborative clinical research:

1. Solution/Product Validation studies: The collaboration partner acts as a first of kind site for a particular product or solution from one of the company’s business units and a clinical evaluation of the product is conducted within the healthcare institution of the Collaboration partner.

2. Disease-Specific Clinical Research Projects: these projects are again developed based on the common areas of interest between clinicians and the company’s research groups. These may be evaluation of certain care protocols for their efficacy in improving patient outcomes and/or reducing costs.

3. Population Studies & Normative Data Development: These projects are conceived and developed based on the healthcare needs of certain large patient populations within India, with intent to provide cost-effective solutions which can positively influence patient outcomes. India severely lacks normative data which is specific for the Indian subcontinent.

Many global players in the field of healthcare technology have set up vast development houses in India

Although, most projects executed under clinical research will fall into one or the other above mentioned project types, any other project which is of mutual interest to both the healthcare institution and the collaboration industry partner can be pursued.

Benefits of Collaborative Research

Collaborative Research is important to big companies like Philips because –

a) Provides an ability to touch the lives of people in need, especially the downtrodden and underserved brethren in the world.

b) Provides a great opportunity to validate products and solutions in a clinical environment guided by top clinicians who are key opinion leaders in their own domains/specialties.

c) Be part of cutting edge research and innovation and function as leaders of healthcare.

d) Get first adapter advantage for various cutting edge solutions and products and become key opinion leaders by validating them.

e) Utilize clinical research and collaboration as a differentiator to delivering great value and improved outcomes to patients in an economically viable manner, there by establishing one’s institution as a center of excellence in key areas or specialties of healthcare.

Although the scene of collaborative clinical research has cleared up to a large extent to what it was 2-3 decades ago, we still have a number of obstacles to such an enterprise. The following are some commonly encountered obstacles:

1. Extremely busy clinicians – we all know it well that most hospitals in India are overcrowded and clinicians serving their cause become completely occupied by day to day clinical responsibilities, it leaves very little time and energy for research and innovation. This is particularly evident in top of the line state run hospitals and to a lesser extent in private hospitals.

2. No mandate for research activities beyond immediate patient care responsibilities for clinicians, which actually under runs the above point. However, it is heartening to note that many private hospitals are today including research & innovation projects as a ‘to do’ responsibility for their clinical staff.

3. Lack of directions from medical regulatory bodies: Until recently, India had a principal of ‘permanent registration’. However, in the last five years, the medical council has amended this and is now setting forth the need for recertification for physicians at regular intervals and is also introducing CMEs as an integral part of the recertification process.