There are many trends which are shaping the development of clinical trial recruitment - increased regulation, emerging markets, provider consolidation, and changing participant demographics - but perhaps none is quite so crucial as the advancement of the digital age. As more patients use online methods to find healthcare information, the next generation of clinical trial recruiters must adapt methodologies to put themselves directly in the path of these digital consumers.
Since costs of traditional recruitment methods are increasing rapidly, digital methods may prove to be both efficient and cost-effective recruitment tools. Here are some of the ways digital recruitment can be achieved for clinical trials:
- Be there when they are searching for information: It can be difficult to find prospective participants who meet the requirements of your clinical trial, so online marketing can be utilized to help them find you. If you are looking for participants with a certain medical condition, the odds are high that they will go online to search for information about their condition. If your trial appears in their search results due to search engine optimization or pay-per-click marketing techniques, and you have a quality meta description that catches their attention, they will be more motivated to navigate to your website for additional information about the trial.
- Target their social media use: Be visible in the social media universe where your potential participants are traveling. Even though the data is a little old, a 2010 Australian study successfully targeted young women through Facebook advertisements. Females aged 16 to 25 from Victoria, Australia were invited to participate in a health study. 551 women clicked on the ad, and 426 subsequently agreed to complete a health-related survey. Of those who agreed to take part, 278 completed the survey (139 at the study site and 139 remotely). Other companies listed as utilizing social media for clinical trial recruitment include Lilly which ran two pilots in 2011about diabetes and head and neck cancer that achieved a “meaningful volume of responses.” Novartis ran a short pilot using Twitter to publicize clinical trials. Pfizer even has a dedicated YouTube channel for its clinical trials.
- Build communities: Social media can be used to develop communities around trial participants, patients and physicians, and those who want to interact and talk about their experiences in the trial. These need to be carefully monitored and guided to create meaningful conversation and draw out useful insights from members of the community.
- Integrate digital with traditional: Even though digital recruitment can be tremendously effective, there is no need to abandon traditional advertising altogether; rather the two must be integrated so that traditional methods serve to drive participants to online information and registration sites.
Digital recruitment has made major advances in just the last five years alone. As online targeting methods become more sophisticated, there will be even more opportunities for precision marketing strategies, increased use of mobile device marketing and the integration of online diagnostic tests as part of a pre-trial screening process.