Those suffering from a specific disease or just willing to participate in a clinical trial generally do so to advance research, but they also expect to get paid. Yet, delivering funds to trial patients is a chronic pain point with few remedies.

Clinical trial sponsors, the contract research organizations (CROs) that choose patients and set up payment parameters, or the actual research sites involved in the process don't always have the time or wherewithal to focus on payment methods and timing.

As such, Philadelphia-based Greenphire has found its niche in the clinical research arena, saying it has delivered more than three million patient reimbursements worth more than $200 million worldwide in seven years through its ClinCard debit card and Web-based services.

"The whole premise of clinical research and development is to get patients in the door and keep them through the lifecycle of a study," said Kyle Cunningham, vice president of product development for Greenphire. "Patients leave for various reasons, but we really exist to make sure none of those patient dropouts are related to less-than-ideal payment management."

In working with either the trial sponsors or the CROs, Greenphire takes over the payment and communication tasks to allow researchers to focus instead on clinical testing and findings, Cunningham said.

Patient reimbursement amounts and pay periods are negotiated between the study sponsor [often a pharmaceutical or medical device company], the CRO and research site. After various other factors related to the patient and the research calendar get cleared by review boards, the actual process of "paying the subjects who walk through the door is historically really painful," Cunningham said. "A lot of burden is placed on the research sites, as they could be handling several different clinical trials at the same time and have to keep track of the patients, the studies and payment timing."

Much of this kind of work is handled manually, turning it into "an administrative nightmare," Cunningham added.

Greenphire's ClinCard addresses this through Web-based streamlining of payment procedures and movement of funds from sponsors or CROs into a Greenphire account and onto a reloadable, co-branded MasterCard debit card for the patients. Bancorp Bank supplies the BIN for the process.

The Greenphire software allows the research site to indicate when a certain patient activity is completed and a payment is needed. A program can be set up in advance with, for example, 57 clinical trial sessions at $50 for each and the completion date of those sessions. The software also allows Greenphire to send reminders to patients via e-mail or text about upcoming appointments.

Over time, sponsors and research sites can better see how payment flow is matching up with budgets for the clinical trial, Cunningham said.

In addition to the payment process and budget monitoring, Greenphire also offers a Travel Module portal for clients. The module is most often used for those suffering from a rare disease and interested in clinical trials to address it. In those cases, the sponsor won't have as many patients available and may have to ask some to travel long distances to participate.

In the past, those patients would have to pay those travel expenses up-front and wait for reimbursement. "We felt there had to be a better way for those who want to participate without facing the burden of up-front costs," Cunningham said.

Travel Module helps a trial sponsor establish parameters for travel and accommodations, and also book flights and hotels for patients. The costs are automatically billed to the Greenphire account, instead of to the patient.

Many of the patients entering clinical trials don't have access to new payments technology, but Greenphire is monitoring how it can expand its services to a mobile wallet or other payment form factors, Cunningham said.

"As it is, many of these patients don't even have a bank account, and that is why the ClinCard debit card has been such a powerful asset," he added. Patients can use the debit card to make PIN payments at the point of sale or withdraw cash from an ATM.

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