15 Clinical Trial Patient Recruitment Companies (And How to Choose One)
Updated August 2019
Clinical trial patient recruitment companies use a range of methods, from digital advertising to community partnerships, to find the right patients for your trial. Depending on your trial’s needs, you may want to choose a company with a particular specialty in a therapeutic area or patient population. You may also be interested in finding a company that offers additional services, such as developing your prescreener or helping you identify the best site locations for your study.
When choosing a company, consider each company’s offerings as well as experience in your therapeutic area. We’ve included additional questions we recommend asking at the bottom of the below list, as well as a primer on how clinical research recruitment companies connect with patients in the first place.
These 15 clinical trial recruitment companies are the most prominent in the space. See which one might be the best fit to boost patient enrollment in your next trial.
With 20 years of experience in the space, Acurian has developed predictive enrollment models to inform recruitment decisions. The company also uses patient advisory boards and surveys to get feedback on marketing materials.
Antidote works with more than 270 leading health nonprofits and patient advocates to connect sponsors and research sites with informed, engaged patients interested in clinical trial participation. Offerings include lab-validated referrals thanks to a partnership with PWNHealth, targeted outreach plans with a network of 260+ nonprofit and patient advocacy partners, and other premium services for trial sponsors.
This patient recruitment agency uses 400 digital channels to reach out to patients searching for medical information online. The company also advertises its speed, letting potential clients know they have only a five business day set-up time.
Clariness has an international focus. The company has enrolled patients in more than 800 trials in 30 countries.
In addition to working with a database of patients, ClinicalConnection can also feature your study center on their website as a way to reach patients searching for trials on their website.
The company specializes in connecting with local patient organizations as part of its enrollment efforts.
This company gives both physicians and sponsor clients the opportunity to connect patients with trials directly through EHR integration.
Another company with a few decades of experience, MMG positions itself as global recruitment strategists. The company emphasizes their strategy support offerings.
Praxis offers a range of service options that customers can pick and choose from, including digital advertising as well as community outreach to identify potential study participants.
Rather than reaching out to patients about specific trials through advertising, SubjectWell aims to build a database of patients interested in participating in clinical trials.
Potential participants sign up for Studykik after seeing ads on Facebook and other platforms, then receive an alert when a trial fits their profile.
In addition to offering patient recruitment, Trialspark also runs trials at their own sites.
In addition to patient recruitment services, this company also creates mobile apps for trials.
What to consider before choosing a clinical trial recruitment company:
Do I need help choosing site locations for my trial?
If you haven’t yet settled on the site locations for your trial, consider working with a company that can help you with this part of the process as well. Some companies use data they’ve collected from previous trials to help you identify locations that might be particularly difficult to recruit in.
Are you looking for help at the beginning of your trial, or for “rescue” support?
Companies sometimes specialize in support for different aspects of a trial. If your trial has been running for a while and struggled with patient enrollment, a company that advertises speed and efficiency may be your best choice. If you’re at the beginning of your trial and you’re looking for more strategic guidance for the full breadth of the trial, a different company that specializes in planning may be the right option.
What kind of budget model are you looking for?
Clinical trial recruitment companies offer a range of budgeting options, including pay for performance and flat fee. Consider your trial’s budget per randomized, consented, or validated patient, and include your pricing considerations in your conversation with prospective vendors.
Does the company have an in-house marketing team?
Working with a company that has an experienced, in-house marketing team can help your online advertisements stand out in crowded Facebook newsfeed and other ad spots. Ask companies you interview whether they work with an outside agency when developing outreach materials, or if they have their own team. Before deciding to work with a vendor, consider taking a look at advertising materials the company has found success with in the past to ensure their style fits with what you’re looking for.
Has this company worked with my therapeutic area before?
Ask the company for case studies or other information on trials they’ve run in your trial’s therapeutic area, or a related area. Companies that have already recruited for similar trials often have a good sense of what techniques do and don’t work for a given condition. Of course, differences in inclusion/exclusion criteria as well as the location of the trial make a difference for recruitment challenges, too.
Does the company specialize in a particular phase of trials?
Some recruitment companies may have a particular expertise in clinical trials for healthy volunteers in Phase I trials, or can offer support for Phase II and Phase III studies. Other agencies may work with patients interested in follow-up research and Phase IV studies, or in observational studies in particular.
Has this company worked on international trials before?
If your trial has sites in multiple countries, you may want to ensure that the company you work with has international experience. The company should be accustomed to creating translated materials and using the best ad targeting methods for non-U.S. patients.
What happens to patients who aren’t eligible for one of my trials, but who might be eligible for other trials in my portfolio?
Some companies have a database of patients who have expressed interest in clinical trials, and recruit from that database. Antidote, for example, offers the ability to match our database of patients against your entire portfolio of patients so interested participants don’t slip through the cracks.
How quickly can this company develop materials and a recruitment strategy?
Some companies include their recruitment speed as part of their value proposition to potential customers. If you’re on a tight schedule for meeting your patient enrollment goals, like many sponsors and sites are, ask potential vendors for a rough outline of their timeline for creating materials and submitting them to your Institutional Review Board (IRB).
How will patients be screened?
When making your decision, consider whether you would like your recruitment vendor to also handle patient phone screening. Some companies will also create and host a pre-screener for your trial, as well. Consider which elements of your trial will be useful to outsource, and which your team prefers to conduct in-house.
How has the company iterated in the past when recruitment isn’t going well?
Clinical trial recruitment is notoriously challenging, and roadblocks to patient enrollment are common. Ask the potential vendor about how they’ve handled challenges in the past and different approaches they’ve tried when recruitment isn’t going well.
Am I looking for both patient recruitment and retention?
After a patient has been enrolled in your trial, retention is an important piece, as well. Some companies offer additional services to help your trial continue running on schedule, even after your recruitment goals have been met. These tools can include engagement programs, technology that assists with accurate data collection, and site follow-up services.
What kind of reporting do you want to receive from the company?
As you’re talking with your potential vendor, ask how often they typically update clients on how recruitment is going and any other metrics you’re interested in. You can ask to see a sample report or find out what metrics the company typically shares with clients.
What is the company’s relationship with patients?
Patient centricity begins with trial design and remains important throughout a trial. You can incorporate the concept of keeping the patient at the center in recruitment activities, as well. Ask potential vendors whether they receive feedback from patients on advertising campaigns or other elements of their business. Patient-centered clinical research recruitment materials, for example, should be clear, readable, and share information about the trial that will help patients make the decision of whether or not to join.
How does the company recruit a diverse patient population?
Diversity in clinical trial patient recruitment is another important consideration for many trial sponsors. Talk with potential vendors about strategies they’ve used in the past for enrolling a diverse patient population. This piece is particularly important if the therapeutic area for your trial disproportionately affects a certain patient population.
How does the company find patients to participate?
Though there are a few approaches that most recruitment vendors take (see below), you may have a preference for how a company acquires patients based on past experience or the therapeutic area you’re working with. For example, if you’re working on a trial for a rare disease, you may prefer to work with a company that has a partnership with a nonprofit associated with that condition. In general, companies use a range of techniques when working to find the right patients for your trial. When evaluating a company, ask questions about what approaches they have found most effective.
What clinical trial recruitment strategies do agencies use?
Recruiting patients typically requires a variety of clinical trial recruitment strategies to find the right patients. While some agencies specialize in a particular approach, many use a range of strategies to connect with patients. The clinical trial recruitment process may include:
Digital advertising: Many companies use social media ad platforms such as Facebook to target specific interests related to a study’s inclusion criteria. Companies may also use tools like Google AdWords to capture potential participants who are searching for clinical trials, as well as banner ad placements, which are targeted based on the websites that potential patients visit.
Traditional advertising: Non-digital ad placements can include newspaper ads, radio ads, billboards, and print materials distributed at doctor’s offices.
Patient databases and registries: Some clinical trial recruitment companies create databases of patients who are interested in clinical trials, and sign up to receive alerts when a trial in their area matches their profile. Companies that have an active database may offer a lower cost-per-patient than companies that conduct patient outreach from scratch.
Partnerships: A clinical trial company may have relationships with health nonprofits and community groups associated with a particular condition. Nonprofits may have a large email list of patients they can reach out to with clinical trial opportunities, for example. When patients hear about a trial from a source they already trust, they may be more willing to participate.
Electronic Health Record (EHR) matching: Some companies offer software that integrates with medical records, allowing physicians to easily connect patients with clinical trial opportunities. Because it’s important for patients to talk to their doctors before deciding to join a clinical trial, it can be helpful for your study if a patient already heard about the opportunity from their doctor directly. EHR matching can also make it easier to identify potentially eligible patients before a site visit, as health records may include information on recent lab tests related to eligibility criteria, too.
Community events: Particularly if you’re working with a company that has partnerships with nonprofits and community organizations, the vendor you work with may attend local health fairs or other events and promote your trial there. A representative may bring flyers, pamphlets, and other print materials to the event.
Clinical trial patient recruitment challenges
Patient recruitment companies can help solve common challenges that can come up in the course of a campaign. You can enlist the help of a clinical research recruitment company for a "rescue study," or before recruitment starts if you've run into these challenges in the past.
1. Challenge: Your patient referrals aren't eligible for your trial.
Solution: Diversify your patient recruitment approach.
Nearly half of all clinical trial sites under-enroll, or in the worst cases, fail to enroll a single patient. Even with an effective site selection process in place, unforeseen issues at sites can slow recruitment. Patient databases that haven't been updated may have unusable contact information. Competition from other trials recruiting near a site can also make a negative impact on site performance.
It's important to diversity your approach to patient recruitment early on in the process. Identify clinical trial patient recruitment companies you're interested in working with, and engage them for digital advertising or partnership opportunities before sites begin underperforming. Having a diverse approach from the start allows trial teams to beat their timelines.
2. Challenge: Your research sites are underperforming.
Work with a recruitment company that has access to more specific data.
Clinical trials are increasing in complexity. For example, researchers may look for patients with specific lab values based on blood tests – information patients are unlikely to know on their own. This typically means that research sites screenfail more patients, leading to delays in recruitment and making goals harder to reach.
To speed the process of identifying patients with complex eligibility criteria, consider working with a patient recruitment company that has access to additional layers of data beyond a diagnosis. Knowing the medication patients are taking, or even the results from recent blood work, can make it much easier to connect with the right patients. Antidote, for one, has partnered with PWN to provide trial sponsors with lab-validated patient referrals.
3. Challenge: Patients become unresponsive before they ever reach your research sites.
Solution: Get support on patient and site follow-up.
Even if a patient is interested in taking part in clinical research, there are still plenty of opportunities to lose contact in the course of their journey from learning about your trial to randomizing. Patients may miss an email or phone call, or be unable to attend a site visit for additional screening.
Reaching out to potentially interested patients and conducting site screening keeps staff busy enough – it can be challenging to find time for following up with patients who have fallen off the radar. Working with a recruitment agency that also offers site and patient follow-up services can help you successfully progress interested patients to the next step. Automated follow-ups through digital advertising, emails, calls, and text messages give patients multiple opportunities to set up a site visit. For patients who miss a visit, it's important to reschedule if they're interested, or find out more information about their cancellation that can be used to improve targeting. These services reduce site time while moving interested patients forward in the process.
4. Challenge: The patients you find live too far from your sites.
Solution: Offer travel services and adjust your targeting.
If the patients you're reaching aren't able to make it to your research sites, there are a few solutions that can help. First, communicate with the sites or recruitment companies conducting your outreach about whether targeting can be adjusted to narrow the radius in which patients are being reached. Several different factors impact how far patients are willing to travel for a clinical trial, such as the visit schedule and how symptoms impact patient energy levels and mobility. Travel services through ride share or local taxi companies can also assist patients who live far away but are still interested in participating.
5. Challenge: Your outreach efforts aren't generating interest in your trial.
Solution: Work with a recruitment company that has experience in your specific condition area.
In surveys regarding patient attitudes toward clinical research, there are recurring themes: Patients are largely driven by altruism and an interest in helping research, for example. But our recent patient survey revealed that motivations can also vary widely among different condition areas. For example, asthma and allergy patients were more likely to say that receiving payment was important to their decision to participate.
If your outreach materials aren't bringing in interest for your trial, they may not reflect the needs or interests of your patient population. A patient recruitment company with experience recruiting for a range of conditions can help you create effective outreach materials that speak to the unique reasons your patient population may be interested in taking part.
Learn about how Antidote has helped sponsors connect with our community of patients by downloading our case studies.