There’s a common conception in the pharmaceutical industry that patients aren’t interested in participating in clinical research. But surveys find that up to 71% of patients are very or somewhat interested in taking part in one. So why is patient recruitment so challenging, not to mention expensive?
One issue keeping patients from participating is that recruitment efforts tend to be trial-centric; they are rarely patient-centric. They try to pinpoint whether a patient is right for a particular trial, not what trial is right for a particular patient. The way patients hear about trials, the questions they answer in a pre-screener, and other parts of the recruitment experience can leave patients confused and drive away those who may otherwise be interested.
By changing perspective and thinking about recruitment from the patient’s point of view, sites and sponsors can more easily connect with interested patients. Here are a few tips for those running clinical trial patient recruitment campaigns:
1. Conduct thorough and specific patient research.
Take the time to research the patient population for your trial to start your campaign on the right foot. You’ll use your research to develop outreach materials that connect with patients, as well as a pre-screener that’s easy for patients to understand. Even if you’ve run a trial in a given condition area before, it’s still important to take into account the trial’s specific inclusion and exclusion criteria, as well as the study drug and its goals.
Your patient research should answer these questions:
- Approximately how many people in the U.S. meet your inclusion/exclusion criteria? This information will be helpful when deciding how to target your ads.
- What are the demographics of this condition? This question is particularly important to answer before choosing imagery to go with your ads. Make sure the photos you choose represent a diverse group of patients, with a focus on the demographic most impacted by the condition, if applicable.
- What symptoms does the study drug aim to treat? How do those symptoms affect patients’ quality of life? Look into how patients talk about those particular symptoms on message boards, blogs, and on social media to better understand how improving symptom treatment would impact their lives.
- What barriers to participation might this patient population face? Take note of how common symptoms may impact your patient population’s ability to take part in your trial.
2. Use language that connects with patients.
When creating your outreach materials, pre-screener, and other patient-facing content, try to talk about the condition in the same language that patients do. For example, if you’re running a trial for systemic lupus erythematosus, research how patients themselves refer to the condition. Do they tend to just use “lupus” as shorthand, or would the average patient use the abbreviation SLE?
Health literacy is another factor to keep in mind when developing materials. Just 12% of Americans are considered “health literate.” Data shows that most Americans struggle to understand directions from a doctor, information on medication bottles, and other health communications. When creating materials, including imagery and infographics can help make your messages clearer. Also consider reading level – the average American reads at a 7th to 8th grade level. Try placing your content into readability apps such as Readable.io or the Hemingway App, which make recommendations on how you can simplify your copy.
3. Include additional details in your outreach materials.
When creating your pre-screener or other study landing page, include as many details as you can to help patients decide whether to to participate. In a survey from CISCRP, patients reported the details that were most important to their decision to participate in a trial: potential risks and benefits, the purpose of the trial, and the physical location of the research center. When possible, incorporate those details into your outreach materials, as well. For example, you could mention the city name where a site is located in geo-targeted ads promoting your trial.
4. Make the screening process easier for patients.
As you develop your patient recruitment plan, consider where your ads will drive patients. Will you create a pre-screener for the trial, or a website landing page about it? When developing a pre-screener, continue to keep in mind the potential burden on the patient. Consider how many questions you’re asking, and how likely a patient is to know an answer off-hand. For example, some Alzheimer’s disease trials may require a certain Mini Mental-State Evaluation (MMSE) score, but before including a question about it, research whether an average patient or caregiver would know that number without talking to a doctor. Some questions may be better asked over the phone, too, if you’re able to have a follow-up call with potentially qualified patients.
5. Connect with patient organizations.
It can be helpful to engage with patient advocacy groups and research nonprofits at any point in your research or campaign development. Advocates can offer helpful insight into the kinds of research opportunities their communities are looking for.
Some may also be interested in working with your team to promote clinical trial opportunities to their communities, and patients may be more willing to participate if they hear about the opportunity from a source they trust. If you’re doing local community outreach, you may be able to join a health fair or other event where you can share information about trials with patients.
“Patient centricity” may be a buzzword, but in medical research today, it’s also key to the success of your trial. When you improve the patient experience beginning with recruitment, you’ll set your entire trial up to be more patient-centric, too. Considering the patient’s perspective leads to better results for everyone involved, from researchers to patients to caregivers, and gets new treatments to pharmacy shelves faster.
About Nancy Ryerson:
Nancy Ryerson is a digital communicator with experience in content, marketing, and social media in the healthcare space. She currently writes for clinical researchers and patients at Antidote, a digital health startup that connects patients to research through an innovative clinical trial search tool. Prior to joining Antidote, she spent three years at The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, where she communicated research updates and clinical trial opportunities to the Foundation’s social media community of 750,000+ followers.