April 25, 2023

The Chaos of Clinical Research Coordination: Drowning in Lab Kits

As a clinical research coordinator, one of the most surprising experiences when starting the job is being overwhelmed with supplies. Not only do you have to manage the coordination of the study itself, but you are also responsible for organizing and maintaining an ever-growing stock of lab kits and shippers. It's not uncommon to find that your desk is also a supply closet, with binders, lab kits, and shippers taking up every available inch of space.

It's incredibly difficult to simply understand what all of your supplies are actually for and keep track of what kit belongs to which study. It's like playing a game of Minesweeper trying to find the one kit that isn't expired. Coordinators are already overburdened with jobs to be done — there's rarely ever time to sift through the mountain of kits to find the ones ready to be thrown away. Not to mention, it feels incredibly wasteful to throw away the components of the kits that aren't expired!

The problem is compounded by the fact that as a study coordinator, you have no control over the supply. You can order more kits, but you have to hope that they will arrive in time. Sometimes, at the beginning of a study, you receive a deluge of supplies that you can’t use yet, and sometimes, sponsors will start resupplying you before you've even used a single kit! If the resupply plan is based on a feasibility plan pre-study kickoff, this problem can get worse and worse. However, this resupply is not based on expiration, but on an initial feasibility survey sent by the sponsor that has nothing to do with real-time activity.

As the study progresses, you have to sift through the massive amount of supply and do a gut check to determine if you have enough kits. There is no centralized way of managing the supply, and you can easily miss the fact that you don't have enough of what you need, especially when it's hidden by having too much of what you don't. It's a constant juggling act, and you're always running out of that one kit you never have enough of, which adds more stress to an already overwhelming workload.

Sponsors are generally aware of the chaotic mess that sites have to deal with when it comes to supply, however, their best solution is to continue to send more supply — which only exacerbates the problem. Kitting suppliers are also not incentivized to solve this problem, nor do they have the means to do so. Without visibility into a site's activity levels, suppliers and sponsors can only make educated guesses and tend to err on the side of oversupply. As a result, sponsors end up shouldering the costs of excess supplies, while the site incurs the burden of acting as a warehouse. So, the staff at sites continue to drown in lab kits.

As an industry, we need to acknowledge that this is a universal, systemic problem across all sites that requires a multi-stakeholder solution. Clinical research sites need a better way to manage the inventory that they have. Sponsors need more visibility into what sites have, so they only send what they need, without worrying they won’t have enough.

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