Patient recruitment is still major pain point for clinical trials — here’s how social media can help.
The rise of digital media has revolutionized healthcare, empowering patients to conduct their own medical research and make their own decisions about treatment. Increasingly, clinical trial sponsors and CROs are recognizing this trend and adjusting their recruitment strategies in order to remain in-step with shifting consumer preferences. That “adjustment” has primarily entailed moving away from traditional advertising outlets (TV, radio, print) towards digital marketing channels in order to reach more prospective participants, and to do so in a more targeted, ROI-positive manner.
As social platforms like Facebook have matured and proliferated over the past five to seven years, it’s emerged as a powerful clinical recruitment engine. Here are a few of the key reasons sponsors and CROs should seriously consider adding social media marketing into their digital recruitment strategies.
1. Reaching a Wider Audience
In the past, one of the biggest roadblocks to patient recruitment success has been connecting a large enough number of patients with relevant clinical research opportunities in a cost-effective manner. Traditional media casts a wide net, but in addition to being expensive, there’s no real way of guaranteeing the message will actually reach your desired audience.
Data indicates that the industry’s approach to raising awareness has been largely ineffective. For example, NIH research suggests that some 85% of cancer patients remain unaware of active clinical research opportunities, even though 75% of them say they would be willing to participate if they did. What’s more, the efficacy of traditional tactics for patient education and referrals seems to be diminishing quickly — for example, a recent Tufts CSDD report indicates that only 0.2% doctors and nurses actively refer their patients to clinical trials.
Social media presents an opportunity for sponsors and CROs to reach an absolutely massive audience with the resources and information they need to enroll. For example, Facebook’s user base is now more than two-billion strong, which includes 100% representation for many chronic and/or rare conditions, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
2. Communities and Support
One of the biggest developments associated with the rise of social media is the mass proliferation of online patient communities. A recent Health Union survey of more than 2,200 chronic care patients found that 26% use the platform once or more every day for health, and more than 50% on a monthly basis. Many are looking to condition-specific Facebook pages for guidance and other information from others suffering from the same affliction, in large part because social media users are so vocal about their experiences — even personal ones.
The Health Union study found that approximately 49% of respondents had “posted or shared a personal story or content online and 48% have shared a health-related post, photo or video that was not their own.”
The study explains, “The desire to explain their condition drives most of those who posted or shared content online, along with managing or coping with the symptoms...content that promotes understanding and support for these conditions receive the highest levels of engagement in social media.”
What’s clear is that patients are receptive to the information they come across on social media — as such, clinical trials should make social media engagement a priority in order to increase patient awareness and connect with more potentially qualified participants.
3. Social Media Advertising Works
In any marketing campaign, one of the main factors determining the ROI will be whether or not you can get the right materials in front of the right audience. Unlike traditional print, radio, and television ads, social media advertising platforms like Facebook offer powerful targeting tools that allow clinical trials to reach niche patient segments.
Sponsors and CROs can design campaigns around specific inclusion/exclusion criteria, such as age, sex, ethnicity, geographic location, and demonstrated interests, ensuring that the ads are being shown to only the most qualified candidates and increasing the likelihood of conversion.
At the end of the day, clinical trial sponsors and other stakeholders involved in patient recruitment need to recognize that social media is no longer a novelty. Rather, it’s become an established, trusted resource for consumers looking for health-related information and support. Utilizing it isn’t just about keeping R&D costs under control — it’s about making it easier for patients suffering from serious illnesses to get the information and ultimately, the care they need.