I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Andrew Cutler, CEO and CMO of Florida Clinical Research Center a few weeks ago. Dr. Cutler has worked in the field of psychiatry for the past 18 years and launched Florida Clinical Research Center (often abbreviated as the FCRC) about 13 years ago. FCRC specializes in Central Nervous System (CNS) and psychiatry clinical trials, but also conducts clinical trials for migraines, insomnia, fibromyalgia, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, smoking cessation, constipation and more. Dr. Cutler was a very gracious and knowledgeable interviewee, we spoke mainly on clinical trials recruitment and how the field has changed over the past decade.
I hope you enjoy this interview:
me: How many clinical trials has FCRC conducted since it opened and how many physicians do you have working at both the Bradenton and Maitland locations?
Dr. Cutler: We’ve run between 300 and 350 trials and we have 4 doctors at the Bradenton location and 4 at the Maitland location
me: Do you find clinical trials difficult to recruit for and if so, why?
Dr. Cutler: It really depends on the indication. Some are harder to accrue for than others. It also depends on the eligibility criteria. For example, one depression study can be easy to accrue for, and other depression studies can be very difficult. Recruitment at FCRC has also evolved in a variety of ways over the years. We have patient databases where we contact patients who said they wanted to learn about clinical trials for particular conditions, and will let them know about appropriate clinical trials. We use traditional media such as radio, newspaper and TV ads. We’ve also revamped our website and now we are investing in the internet. We are always looking for new ways to reach out to people which is why are working with TrialX.
me: Do attitudes still need to change about clinical research or is it that some conditions are always going to accrue better such as depression or obesity versus post-herpetic neuralgia or some other rarer condition?
Dr. Cutler: Different Illnesses require different recruitment strategies:
Clinical Trial recruitment is both a numbers game and an attitude shift needs to occur; If an illness doesn’t have great treatments, there is more motive to seek better treatments. With a common illness, there is less incentive to seek out better treatments. It depends on what unmet need is out there. For example Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is very common, but most doctors are not good at diagnosing and treating it. So when we run advertisements for ADHD trials, we get a huge response. But with depression, since 1993 these trials are harder to recruit for as primary doctors are more comfortable with treating it. With something like Schizophrenia, your advertising will need to target care givers, not schizophrenia sufferers.
A Clinical Trials Attitude Shift
We at FCRC do a lot of community outreach and engagement too because we realize that attitudes do need to shift. Media coverage of clinical research is hot and cold. Pharma companies have a bad name right now but they are doing some of the best research. We (as the entire clinical research community) are also not doing a good enough job communicating the benefits of clinical trials. Clinical trials are an alternative to standard treatments, where something potentially more efficacious and better tolerated is being explored. If patients have a lack of insurance, clinical trials can be a very good option for them. Participation in clinical trials also offers thorough evaluation and in some cases a 2nd opinion. I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve re-diagnosed. Also, doctors who conduct clinical trials have the luxury to take time with people and educate them about their illness and the options they have. Patients who participate in clinical trials experience altruism, they say, ‘I’d like to help so that someone else doesn’t have to suffer like I did.’ And lastly:
Surveys and studies of patients who’ve done clinical trials consistently show that they believe the quality of medical care they received on a clinical trial is better than the care they would get otherwise.
Our goal at FCRC is to be of benefit to someone whether they have done a trial or not, because then they go out and say “Hey I had a good experience there.’ And this word of mouth marketing works really well.
me: How are you harnessing your patients’ appreciation in your marketing process?
Dr. Cutler: We have a patient who had been through a schizophrenia clinical trial who gave a very eloquent testimonial at NAMI (National Association for Mental Illnesses) and he spoke very favorably about us. We have not yet put patient testimonials on our website. This is a delicate balance and we don’t want our patients to feel exploited. As I mentioned earlier, we get a lot of business by word of mouth. People ask each other about their experience at particular facility or with a particular doctor. They ask things like, ‘Are they good?’ or ‘What was it like?’ and so we really benefit from this.
me: In past year or 2 what is one thing that you did to recruit patients that was very successful?
Dr. Cutler: There was not one thing in particular but in general we started to shift our philosophy and our money. At the top of our recruiting efforts used to be traditional media, and then we’d send a recruiter out in the community and lastly we had a website. Now we’ve inverted that with the emphasis on the internet. The website is now much more modern and interactive. Our priority now is on internet strategy, pay-per-click ads (ppc), landing pages and such and we are still spending on recruiters and less so traditional media. So we’ve been able to cut our costs and improve our effectiveness dramatically.
You can click here to see the full list of what clinical trials Florida Clinical Research Center is currently accruing for.
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