Adrian Orr is currently the Director of Clinical Affairs at Anika Therapeutics, Inc. Having spent many years conducting trials both in the U.S. and abroad, he like many was interested to see if the development of social media could improve the rate of patient enrollment in clinical trials. Many had heralded this as the start of a potential revolution for attracting the right patients and reducing the burden on clinical operations teams across the industry.

Nonetheless, after engaging with a number of companies which promise to target the right demographic for his trials, Orr questions whether social media is all its been made out to be. In this Industry Viewpoint, Orr speaks to CTA’s Charlie Abrines, and argues why social media might not be a panacea to patient recruitment after all.

Charlie Abrines: Has social media improved your patient enrollment process?

Adrian Orr: Facebook and other social media platforms can be effective tools to market your trial and identify the right participants in a much less taxing way. The amount of leads you can generate by using these tools is significantly greater than has historically been the case. The days of advertising a clinical trial in a newspaper or local journal are long gone given that people today consume most of their information online. However, social media alone cannot be the only tool you employ to get patients; it has to be a mix of a good call center and technology that ensures you will attract the right patient profile..

CA: Have you seen any results from using social media?

AO: As expressed, social media is a great lead generating tool, but the question is not only can you reach a wider audience, but rather what is the conversion rate from this outreach? While you can indeed generate high levels of activity through the use of data analytics, you can also quickly realize that none of those who are engaging with your advertisements are actually suited to your specific trial. While online marketing is a powerful tool, it is unlikely that people will disclose their conditions in a way that will allow these sites to know if a particular individual is suitable for a trial. Likewise you can have the opposite effect whereby a site becomes flooded because too many patients have been recruited. In this instance, a site can be saturated, meaning the team at the sites cannot manage your trial in a way that delivers positive results.

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CA: If social media isn’t all it’s been made out to be then can patient enrollment be improved?

AO: Patient enrollment has always been a tricky business. Sourcing patients for a study is a headache for any clinical operations team no matter if you work for the largest companies or the smallest; the right patients are always hard to find. Social media as a tool does work but it cannot be used in isolation. It has to be one of many tools used to ensure the right patients make their way to the clinic. For example, once you switch on the social media campaign someone will need to manage the volume of referrals generated.

This can be a third party vendor, but typically they are not fully integrated with your sites and communication can be slow. You could train your site to act as a call center and handle this work directly. Some can be motivated to do this as they benefit from the patients that do not get enrolled. The trial activity can generate patient flow that benefits the clinic. For clinics with sufficient patients, they see this as a burden. Ultimately, the sponsor and the site need to collaborate to find the right solution for each site.