Decentralized clinical trials rely to a great extent on technology, such as wearable devices, telehealth visits, communications via smartphone, and more. However, in-home visits to patients require trained, talented, and dedicated health professionals to move important research forward.
Lisa Taxin Portner is a physician assistant that lends her expertise to decentralized trials, on behalf of Hawthorne Effect. The decentralized trial services firm labels the physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals that facilitate decentralized trial visits “Hawthorne Heroes” in recognition of their hard traveling to patient homes to conduct visits and perform much-needed tests and checks that technology alone cannot handle. She spoke with Outsourcing-Pharma about her work, what led her to the challenging work, and what it takes to be a Hawthorne Hero.
OSP: How did you decide on a healthcare career—is it something you’ve been interested in since you were a kid, or were you inspired to jump in a bit later?
LTP: I was inspired to jump in a bit later. I didn’t have an interest in science at all and my undergraduate degree actually was in fine art. It wasn’t until my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor and passed away at age 56 that I became interested in medicine.
I had been living in New York starting a career as a fabric stylist but ultimately decided to move back to Philadelphia to be with him during his last few months. This is where my medical journey began. I decided to go to x-ray school and there, I met a physician assistant. I realized that was what I wanted to do but needed to take all of the science prerequisites to get into physician assistant school and am very proud to be in the first class of PAs from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
OSP: Please tell us about your education and career path, and how that took you to your current gig with Hawthorne Effect.
LTP: After graduating from Thomas Jefferson University as a physician assistant, I moved to Florida specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation. During that time, AstraZeneca began looking for educators and clinicians to bring onto their sales team. They recruited me to work for them, which took me on a completely different career path.
The majority of my career ended up being in clinical sales. My position as a neurological consultant for a medical device company where I fitted splints on patients in their homes, at the rehab hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, or physical therapy clinics.
Little did I know then, but this role would help prepare me to become a Hawthorne Hero (Hawthorne Effect’s robust specialty network of multi-disciplinary medical professionals). Though this was my first introduction to meeting patients in the home, I later worked for a long-term acute care hospital and in population health, where I was constantly traveling and evaluating patients.
Fast forward to 2020 when I first started working with Hawthorne Effect. I had a friend who met Jodi Akin (founder/CEO) the previous year and introduced me to the company. I was immediately attracted to Jodi’s model of decentralizing trials by providing in-home care since this was something I did my entire career and was very comfortable with.
OSP: Could you please share what a typical workday is like as a Hawthorne Hero once you've been assigned a trial?
LTP: The typical workday begins the night before the trial. I make sure I have everything I need in my backpack to complete the evaluation(s), I review which trial visit criteria are being collected, which labs will need to be drawn and I gather all of my paperwork together to eliminate time at the site. Depending on if I am driving directly to the patient’s home or flying, I calculate my travel time, which may include transfers, car rentals, or Uber arrangements. It also involves dropping blood samples off at the lab post-visit.
I then travel to the patient’s home (or other location like a hotel room or nursing home) to conduct medical history, medication reconciliation, physical examination/ vitals, trial assessments (which I have completed certifications for) and blood draws. This usually takes around one to two hours.
From there, I drop off the specimen and head home. After the visit is complete, I organize my notes and make sure everything is completed and written out according to the trial requirements then scan it all back to Hawthorne Effect so our partners can quickly receive data.
OSP: How has the COVID-19 impacted your Hero work, and have the effects changed as the pandemic has progressed the past year and a half?
LTP: I started in August 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, therefore, I haven’t experienced much of a shift in trial visits. Since Hawthorne Effect meets patients where it’s most convenient for them, we haven’t seen failed visits or increased dropouts due to COVID either.
OSP: What are some of the aspects you find most challenging?
LTP: There honestly isn’t anything I find challenging! Hawthorne Effect coordinates all logistics before I even head to the site. Everything is thought through and taken care of — all I need to do is show up!
OSP: What aspects are most rewarding?
LTP: I find the patient and family reactions to be one of the most rewarding parts of this job. Patients and their families are always so surprised and grateful for how convenient Hawthorne Effect makes the process and that excitement/gratitude is a reward in and of itself.
OSP: Could you please share any advice for someone that might be considering a career as a Hawthorne Hero?
LTP: Being a Hawthorne Hero is a rewarding experience and my advice to anyone considering it is to do it! This does require some level of flexibility and you must be comfortable going into a patient’s home, which is not the usual medical office environment. Many times I am drawing labs at the kitchen table or conducting assessments in the patient’s bedroom.
You’ll meet people from all walks of life in completely different locations. It’s also important to establish a good rapport early on with your patients and make sure they feel comfortable throughout the entire visit.
OSP: Finally, Hawthorne Effect calls you and your network “Hawthorne Heroes”—what do you think about the field is heroic, and are there other Heroes you might like to give a shoutout to
LTP: I looked up the definition of a hero and while I do not think of myself as someone doing anything extraordinary, I truly believe to our patients, we are heroes. Hawthorne Effect has been able to deliver something remarkable by bringing comfort and ease to clinical trials so more patients can participate.
As a Hero, we’re doing something for the patient—not for ourselves—and it helps me know that other families don’t have to go through what mine did with my father. As for shout-outs, I’d like to shout out Emmy, Dexter, and Jerome Tonog, MD, with whom I’ve worked closely and that help with all my planning.