5 Patient Recruitment Strategies for Clinical Trials

Clinical trial patient recruitment at sites can be difficult to get right, and having a mix of strategies in your pocket can help. With limited budgets, you may not feel like you have the space for much trial and error. Carefully reviewing your options to figure out what's best for your specific needs can help you find the right options and avoid issues down the line.

Each of these popular options comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. Consider which fit best given your individual budget, staffing, and the needs of your trial. Patient recruitment can be stressful, but with the right mix of approaches, you'll meet your enrollment goals – and keep the trial sponsor happy, too.

1. Use a patient database.

Clinical research sites typically start recruitment efforts by evaluating their own patient database. Having physicians at your site who can connect patients with research opportunities is another free recruitment option. As you start to create your recruitment plan, consider approximately how many patients you have a direct connection with for your trial.

When evaluating your database, it's important to consider how old the patient records are in your database, and whether the trial has any eligibility criteria that may make recruitment more challenging. An older database may mean that contact records and health information are out of date, and while you may have plenty of patients who are right for some trials, you may not have enough to meet the specific needs of your current trial.

2. Run digital recruitment campaigns.

When Antidote conducted a small survey of clinical research sites (n=55), we found that just 56% used social media and other digital advertising to recruit. But with more than 2 billion active daily users on Facebook alone, digital recruitment campaigns can almost definitely help you reach your specific patient population.

Of course, connecting with patients on Facebook is easier said than done. Kicking off a recruitment campaign on Facebook or another platform does typically require the help of someone with experience in digital marketing. But when done well, this method can connect your trial with the millions of patients who engage with health content online every day.

To figure out whether this approach is right for you, consider your staff resources. Ask your clinical research coordinator if they have experience using social media professionally. Make sure they or another team member have time to work on all the different pieces of running a digital campaign, too, including submitting IRB materials, managing comments, and optimizing the campaign after it launches.

3. Share your trial with local health care providers.

According to a survey from CISCRP, 64% of patients would prefer to hear about clinical trial opportunities from their healthcare providers. Consider putting together outreach materials designed specifically for doctors sharing information about your trial. If your site has relationships with local hospitals or other healthcare providers in the area, use your network to spread the word about your trial. In-person meetings tend to be the best way to share trial information with physicians. You can also connect with physicians at conferences and events at local hospitals.

4. Connect with nonprofit partners and patient advocates.

Working with local nonprofit partners and others who engage with patient communities can help you reach patients in your area who may not be in your site's database already. The cost of working with partners varies: some organizations may be interested in promoting your trial for a fee, while others may offer free or low-cost promotions. For example, you may be able to join a local health fair or other event to promote your trial. Or, a nonprofit organization may be interested in promoting your trial to their email list for a fee.

5. Work with a clinical trial patient recruitment company.

If you don't have the resources to run your own digital advertising campaigns, working with a patient recruitment company can help your site reach your recruitment goals. Talk with a few different companies to find the right fit for your budget and needs. Some agencies specialize in digital recruitment, while others offer access to a patient database. Other companies can connect your site with nonprofit partners who work in your trial's condition area.

Before choosing a company to work with, it's helpful to ask about their payment structure (will you pay for leads, or for eligible patients?), how they connect with patients, and for examples of successful campaigns they've run in the past. Try asking these 10 questions to find the right recruitment company for you.

Considering working with a recruitment company? Learn about Antidote's newest tool designed specifically for sites. Schedule a free demo to see how we connect engaged patients with your trials.