How to Recruit Patients for Clinical Trials in 3 Steps

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Finding people willing to participate in clinical trials is notoriously difficult due to a rising number of new drugs and a dwindling pool of potential subjects due to saturation in the clinical trial market.

Currently, many trials fail to reach recruitment goals of hundreds (in phases I and II) to thousands of patients (in phase III); as many as 86 percent of clinical trials do not reach recruitment targets within their specified time periods. This is problematic because a failed clinical study can result in huge financial losses and scientific stagnation.

So how do you ensure that your study is a recruitment success?

Step 1: Do Your Research

Before diving in headfirst, it’s important to have a thorough understanding of your market – so you have the greatest chance of recruitment success.

  • Facilities Research: First, you want to identify facilities that have participated in clinical trials in your geographic areas with the patient population you need. It’s best to avoid areas with multiple similar trials in process as well. You’ll want your site to (1) be in a good location, less than 45 minutes from a major airport with reasonably priced hotels and restaurants nearby; (2) contain a secure pharmacy or on-site drug storage with monitored temperatures; (3) provide accessibility options for patients including parking and public transportation; and (4) possess proper equipment that is in good working condition like scales, centrifuges, etc.
  • Physicians Research: Then, you will want to find qualified physicians in your geographic area who cover your patient population with specialties in your respective therapeutic area.

This type of research can be quite extensive and may require many phone calls to facilities that may not have this information readily available online. It might be worthwhile to use a healthcare data platform that has all of this information, and more, available in the form of an easy-to-use search engine.

Step 2: Marketing and Advertising Your Clinical Trial

So, you’ve picked a site and physician(s) to help you with your trial. Now, you must begin the process of recruiting patients – but, promoting your trial is more nuanced than ever before. In many cases, you might need to apply commercial marketing concepts to your study. In other words, not only will you need to purchase ad space on subways or on television, but you will also need to start an online campaign. These days, most people find the information they need online, so it’s essential to really dive into a social and digital marketing campaign to make sure you’re hitting your recruitment numbers.

  • Search Engine Marketing: It might make sense to run geo-targeted search engine marketing (SEM) or pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns to ensure that patients find your study instantly when they are searching Google for trials. Of course, as with any healthcare-related advertising, you need to follow FDA guidelines as well. If your disease class, products, or related keywords have any hint of controversy, Google’s AdWords team may refuse to allow you to purchase related keywords. For more information on Google’s healthcare AdWords restrictions, check out their website.
  • Social media: Social media is a great way to quickly engage with a wide number of people. As of 2018, 69 percent of Internet users use some type of social media, and that number has continued to rise. For clinical trial recruiting purposes, social media is ideal. It offers the ability to target users based on demonstrated inclusion/exclusion criteria and flexibility in terms of scaling ad spend. Of all social media platforms, Facebook might be your best bet when it comes to advertising your study; it has the largest monthly active user base and allows you to target niche patient segments based on their demonstrated interests and key demographic data such as location, age, and gender.

Step 3: Stay Engaged, Follow Up

Once you have recruited your participants and your study begins, your work is still not done. Even for trials that get off the ground, patient retention becomes a concern, with an average dropout rate of about 30 percent leaving clinical trial programs. Here are two ways to ensure participant retention:

  • Ongoing Communication: Give your participants the option to receive reminder emails and text messages that tell them when they have upcoming appointments, what to expect, and how to prepare for those appointments.
  • Emphasize Benefits: Most patients know what the benefits of participating are, but it’s important to continue to remind patients that they need to be enrolled for the full duration of the trial in order to receive the benefit. This reminder needs to be regularly emphasized, throughout the process.
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