According to a recent white paper by Inventiv Health, of all the time spent conducting clinical trials, approximately 30 percent is focused on recruiting patients. Crucially, on average 37 percent of study sites don’t meet their recruitment targets, while 10 percent fail to enroll a participant at all. So perhaps is not such a surprise to learn that roughly one-third of Phase III trials are terminated when sites have recruitment problems.

An ineffective enrollment strategy can have huge ramifications on a study, with delays costing sponsors on average over roughly €32K in operational costs and up to €7M in lost opportunity costs per day. So what can be done to resolve these issues? In order to overcome the challenges posed by patient recruitment, it’s important to understand the root cause of it.

The Challenges of Patient Recruitment

To start with, the rarity of the condition you’re treating could mean there are a limited number of patients available to treat. Additionally, there could be a fundamental problem with the design of the protocol itself – are the inclusion/exclusion criteria too restrictive? How many competitor studies are taking place that are treating the same condition? Are current sufferers of the disease in question even aware your clinical trial is taking place?

The paucity of available information surrounding your trial could be the foremost reason you’re experiencing difficulties in enrolling patients. Much has been said about the merits of using social media to find patients. Having a coherent strategy in place might not be the ultimate cure to solve your patient recruitment issues, but it can help in a massive way.

Why isn’t industry leveraging Social Media to identify Potential Patients?

Some might bemoan the futility of using social media platforms to identify patients, citing it’s too expensive. But is that really the case? There are a number of similar myths that need to be debunked, such as the idea that regulations prevent the use of social media in the clinical trial process. Or the target demographic must be aged 50 and under in order for an online strategy to be successful.

However, the reality is it’s not at all expensive to run online campaigns to recruit patients; there are cost-effective ways to implement a strategy that won’t break the bank (but more on that later). Similarly, there are no current restrictions or laws that prohibit the use of certain media to recruit potential participants. And the notion that a social media campaign is only really effective for people under 50 is a fallacy. Studies show that 71 percent of U.S. adults between the ages of 50-64 search online for health-related advice.

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To put in place an enrollment strategy that’s effective, design a procedure that’s age and demographically appropriate to the patients you hope to enroll. Below are three factors to consider:

1. Create awareness of your upcoming trial

  • Post short articles about your upcoming trial using conventional media, as well as online publications
  • Engage key opinion leaders in these publications
  • Reference publications on your internet site
  • Make your target patients and caregivers aware of these publications by publicizing it on platforms like Facebook and Twitter

2. Drive the traffic

  • Advertize on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
  • Use your recruiting site’s social media portals
  • Engage the clout of patient advocacy groups, using their social media platforms to your advantage to publicize your trial
  • Include a link for the prospective patient to get more information (your own website, a trial landing page, a phone number)

3. Design a Trial landing page as a pre-screening tool

  • Include a short description of the trial, its test product, its target patient population, its goal, its duration and location
  • Give a short list of the main inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Pre-screen by asking six to eight key questions
  • Make sure they live close enough to an opened site

Source: Tanja Ouimet



*Adapted from Tanja Ouimet’s ‘Patient Recruitment through Internet & Social Media Opportunity or Risk?’