Clinical research sites have concluded that the payments to trial participants are so labor-intensive that the process can become a detriment to their medical studies.

Of 760 sites surveyed around the world, 63% would prefer to make electronic payments, while 75% say reimbursement timelines impact their ability to pay the patient stipends, according to new research from automated clinical payments provider Greenphire and the Society for Clinical Research Sites.

In the past, 66% of sites globally reported having less than three months worth of operating cash, according to Greenphire. Thus, their systems for accepting payments from research sponsors and grants, as well as payments to patients, becomes an even more critical part of the clinic operations.

Chart: How patients get paid

Philadelphia-based Greenphire introduced its Mastercard-branded ClinCard reloadable debit card years ago as an alternative method for distributing payments, but the new research indicates there is still a lot of opportunity to streamline the process of setting up payments to patients.

Through feedback from clinical sites, Greenphire has determined that clinic personnel, often the same people conducting the medical trials, have to spend an average of 15 to 20 minutes handling a manual payment process for each patient visit. Many sites, at 46%, noted the payment process can sometimes take up to 30 minutes.

"Our job is to allow the person at the medical investigation site who is managing payments to do it with just two clicks on a web-based portal so the patient can leave the clinic when the visit is over," said Greenphire CEO Jim Murphy. "In doing that, the patient doesn't have to wait around, or go down the hallway to another area to get a paper check or fill out forms."

Currently, many of the medial trial sites create a complicated paper trail for payments in a medical setting that is already quite complex because of variations in research, patient population, test drugs or treatment regimen.

"Trying to do anything that is truly one size fits all is very difficult with all of those variables," Murphy said. It is also difficult to become "hyper efficient" with payments paperwork when the same clinic may be treating patients not related to research, or may have as many as 10 different clinical trials taking place at the same time, he added.

Nearly 62% of respondents said they used paper checks for payments most often, while 20% paid in cash and 18% said debit cards. However, nearly 48% indicated paying to a debit card was the "second most used" option.

At the same time, 84% of sites prefer to receive a payment from sponsors or grants in support of the clinic in 30 days or fewer, a time frame that could be whittled with electronic payment options.

Greenphire says it recently passed the 4.5 million mark in terms of payment loads on its ClinCard option. Electronic payments can transfer directly from the clinic's bank account to the patient's ClinCard account or a designated bank account.

"We are certainly having an impact when considering that each one of those payment loads represents a patient visit, each of which would otherwise take 15 to 20 minutes to handle a patient payment," Murphy said. "You can see how many hours, in passing the million hour mark, we have been able to save in having an impact on the efficiency of the clinical trial payment process."

Payments through Greenphire's network operate through payment card industry security standard guidelines, utilizing tokenization and encryption, and also follow the financial industry's Know Your Customer regulations, Murphy added.

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