March 19, 2024

What Can the Game of Telephone Tell Us About Our Current Approaches to Sample Management?

Most of us know the game of “Telephone” as a timeless children’s game that is popular all around the globe. Whispered messages work their way through a chain of participants, each eagerly passing along what they heard to the next person in the chain. Laughter often erupts as the final message is revealed, usually bearing little resemblance to the original whisper.

This classic game may be lighthearted, but it can teach us a lot about breakdowns in communication in the real world. In the context of clinical research, “Telephone” holds a striking resemblance to the journey of patient samples and biospecimen metadata.

So when we consider why information becomes muddled and distorted in “Telephone,” what can we learn about the common pitfalls in clinical trial sample management workflows?

For sponsors, sample tracking is like being the last person in the “Telephone” chain

As it stands today, patient samples in clinical trials embark on a journey that is reminiscent of the whispers in “Telephone.” From the moment they are collected at research sites to the time they are tested or stored at a lab or biorepository, these samples pass through numerous hands and processes, much like whispers traveling from participant to participant.

Just as the last person in the chain of telephone players lacks visibility to the full communication chain, sponsors often lack comprehensive, real-time visibility to the sample journey in their clinical trials. They are left to piece together the puzzle based on the limited information they are able to access, much like the last player in the game of telephone trying to decipher the distorted message.

Considering that sponsors are responsible for managing the final output of a clinical trial, a lackluster sample tracking solution can put a clinical trial at significant risk. Rather than being the last person in a chain of stakeholders, with limited visibility to the biospecimen lifecycle, sponsors should embrace tools and processes that give them a real-time, holistic view of the story of every sample and the accompanying sample metadata. Sponsors shouldn’t only have access to the exact location of any of their samples at any given time — they should also know where those samples have been, who has handled those samples, what metadata is tied to those samples, and how samples and their data have changed over time.

Patient samples and biospecimen data in clinical trials are akin to the message in the game of “Telephone” — and that isn’t a good thing

Similar to how messages in the game of “Telephone” get muddled with each transmission, patient samples and their associated sample metadata can also become lost or distorted in translation. Accidental oversights, data entry errors, and transcription mishaps all contribute to the potential for misinterpretation. Just as the original message in “Telephone” can be garbled beyond recognition, the integrity of patient samples and biospecimen data can be compromised — jeopardizing the integrity of study data and slowing the pace of clinical research.

Consider the amount of data reconciliation and the number of queries that could be eliminated if sites were empowered with tools that enabled them to do their jobs better, and if sponsors had more oversight into how patient samples and sample metadata were being managed. Implementing solutions that enforce guardrails would not only dramatically improve site compliance, but also give sponsors full visibility into areas where compliance may be faltering.

Sample management isn’t a game

There is one notable difference between the game of telephone and clinical trial sample management: the latter is not a game. If “Telephone” intends to teach children a lesson about what causes breakdowns in communication, then real-life applications should address those root causes.

At the heart of every clinical trial are the patients who bravely contribute their time and their samples in the hope of advancing innovative therapies and treatments. Their selflessness and courage demand that we uphold the highest standards of integrity in sample management. By prioritizing patient-centric approaches and fostering empathy, we honor their contributions and reaffirm our commitment to responsible research practices.

Break down silos with Slope

Sample management should connect study stakeholders — not stifle collaboration. The eerie parallels of traditional sample management processes to the game of telephone highlight the challenges and complexities inherent to clinical trial execution, while emphasizing the importance of diligence and empathy in navigating these obstacles. By prioritizing and preserving the integrity of samples and sample metadata, we honor the invaluable contributions of the patients who inspire the work that we do.

Slope’s clinical trial execution platform takes the games out of sample management. Our platform was originally built with sites and for sites, enabling them to manage lab kits and patient samples with unparalleled compliance that unlocks invaluable insights for sponsors.

In the same way that whispering makes it hard to communicate effectively, static lab manuals and outdated sample management processes make it difficult for study stakeholders to perform their daily tasks. Slope’s guided sample workflows enforce guardrails that make sites less likely to commit errors with collecting, processing, storing, and shipping samples. Automated data capture also streamlines the management of sample metadata during a patient visit, giving sponsors access to important biospecimen data 17 times faster than the EDC.

Slope also enables complete sample tracking, giving sponsors full visibility of the entire biospecimen lifecycle. Unlike “Telephone,” Slope gives sponsors real-time oversight of everything that has happened to a sample, from its initial state as an empty return container in a lab kit, until its final state at a lab or biorepository.

Interested in learning more about how Slope can transform your sample management strategy? Be sure to check out our white paper on how our software platform can de-risk your trial by turning your complex lab manuals into software-guided workflows.

In the meantime, click here to learn more about the impact of today's clinical trial landscape on sponsor monitoring strategies and research site compliance.

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