How to become investigator sites’ payments sponsor of choice

Site payments matter. They matter even more when sites commonly work for six months before being compensated, only to receive a check in the mail with the wrong amount and no explanation. Even worse, payments matter the most when they cause sites and study teams to question why they are doing clinical research in the first place.

Therefore, sponsors who want to keep sites, investigators and study teams happy should seek to become ‘sponsors of choice’. Simply put, they should pay sites often, on-time, and with in-depth explanations.

Payments matter to everyone

As mentioned, sites’ frustration and confusion levels skyrocket when sponsors’ payment processes are not up to par. Inconsistencies in payments require that sites scramble to reconcile payments. They also end up pulling study coordinators and investigators away from their true purpose – conducting studies.

These days, no sponsor can afford to have an inefficient payments process. The reality is that sites are going to choose which studies they apply for based on a sponsor’s ability to pay. Gone are the days when sending unscheduled cheques based on spreadsheets was enough. Global expansion of trials, hidden costs, tougher logistics and increased regulations have made the payments process more complicated. Thus, making accurate payments on a concise schedule is more important than ever. The good news is that while the task is tough, there are solutions. However, which one sponsors choose depends on the type of organisation they are, or want to be.

How should sponsors pay?

In the world of clinical trials, there are three main ways to manage payments:

  • Outsource to a trusted third-party payments provider that specialises in site payments.
    • Pros – More reliable payments, dedicated site support, cost optimisation, ability for sponsors to instantly add scale and expertise while focusing on their own core competencies
    • Cons – May require new processes or purchasing approvals
  • Internal teams  (sometimes supported by SaaS technology)
    • Pros – Offers sponsors the benefit of full control by letting them decide every detail of every payment; some providers can be flexible to combine with outsourcing as a hybrid model
    • Cons – Requires significant resources, training, time and staff, and may lack site support in multiple countries
  • Contract research organisations
    • Pros – Aggregates another clinical function into one provider relationship, can be cost-efficient
    • Cons – CROs do not specialise in or excel at payments as a stand-alone service, which may lead to a poor reputation among sites and less cost optimisation for sponsors.

Which to choose?

Organisations need to consider what kind of company they are, and what kind of company they want to be, before deciding on a payments model. Examining current and future staffing models, need for control and oversight, as well as organisational gaps, will help determine which choice to make. For example, organisations that are well-staffed with accountants and IT personnel may find that using their internals teams and SaaS is the best fit. However, pharma and biotech with mostly clinical staff may want to outsource payments instead.

Before choosing, sponsors should consider hidden costs lurking beneath the surface. Organisations that want to completely manage the process through SaaS should ask themselves:

  • Will I need more IT staff to manage the software?
  • Do I have the finance employees to support it?
  • Will I need to train them, how much does that cost?

Companies that do their homework like this will often find certain solutions may end up costing far more than they initially thought, and this analysis will help steer them towards the best decision for their organisation.

Some sponsors who feel they don’t have the staff or resources for managing payments on their own should strongly consider the advantages of outsourcing. Outsourcing payments allows these organisations to focus their efforts on the tasks they specialise in, while instantly adding a team of experts to their company – although this may require new processes or purchasing approvals.

A third-party vendor who specialises in payments has the benefit of teams who can resolve site issues, handle international payments and VAT, and answer the phones when needed. These services are important when managing payments, as they are the foundation for good customer service. They also provide a level of trust for sites who have had issues with smaller sponsors, or sponsors with a reputation as a ‘slow payer’. Lastly, third-parties also provide transparency through technology, allowing sites to view, download and communicate information as they please.

Unlike CROs, third-party vendors who specialise in payments offer a range of flexibility that allows them to work well with large companies, as well as smaller pharma and biotech. With third-parties, sponsors make the choices about what kind of payments processes they want – including whether they prefer 30- or 60-day payment intervals, minimal or maximal oversight, and how to best incorporate site feedback. In addition, third-party vendors offer organisations the option of a hybrid model, one that employs SaaS along with third-party expertise while giving sponsors the option to choose what features are best for their organisation.

While it’s troubling that sites still list payments as their biggest concern, sponsors should see this as a golden opportunity. Organisations that take the time to do payments right stand to build strong relationships with sites that can create lasting partnerships. In other words, they become a ‘sponsor of choice’. Whether it’s through a third-party, SaaS, a combination of both, or a CRO, it’s important that the method organisations choose is the one that works best for them.

Stewart Mackie is DrugDev’s vice president, Payments ROW. He has a particular interest in investigator payments and has spearheaded industry-leading developments in both EMEA and the APAC region