5 patient recruitment strategies that actually work

The most successful patient recruitment strategies are executed by recruitment companies that are always a few steps ahead. They reach patients just as they’re considering taking part in research. They verify information before sending patients to research sites. They answer questions before patients have the chance to ask them.

Working with a patient recruitment company with a strong understanding of how your patient population thinks — what motivates them to join research, what creates barriers to participation, what questions may come up — is key to connecting with patients to execute a successful patient recruitment campaign. Here are five patient recruitment strategies that actually work:

Use outreach materials that answer questions before they’re asked.

A patient recruitment ad that lays out every logistical detail of taking part may not sound like the most appealing creative – but it could be more effective than you think. Antidote surveyed patients about the information that’s most helpful to patients in their decision-making process. A key finding was that when it comes to information on a trial, the more the better. Interestingly, the results varied by condition area and demographics. For example, in our survey, trial location was most important to patients with gastrointestinal conditions. 

Depending on the patient population being targeted, outreach materials should answer questions your team predicts patients may have about the trial. Other common questions could include whether there are any overnight stays, or how the study is designed. By tackling anticipated questions head-on, your advertisements can help assuage concerns that make patients hesitate to take the next step. 

Verify as much information as possible before a patient visits a research site.

Online prescreeners have been an important development in patient recruitment, but they’re not always enough on their own. It’s easy for patients to make errors when filling in information, particularly on a mobile device. It can also be challenging to know the answers to every question, such as a list of all medications, off hand. Whenever possible, verify the answers you receive in digital prescreeners through other sources. 

For example, at Antidote, we also screen interested patients over the phone to verify information before connecting them with a research site, and on average this filters out 50% of patients who would not be eligible at the site. We also work with lab or data companies, too, if a trial has very technical inclusion or exclusion criteria. The more information you can double-check up front, the more time research sites have for screening qualified patients.

Engage with patients who have already expressed interest in participating in research. 

In a 2017 patient survey from CISCRP, when asked about the term “clinical trial,” just 24% of respondents who had never participated in research said they understood it “very well.” Though knowledge of clinical trials has improved over time, gaps still remain. The survey also found that lack of knowledge around clinical research negatively impacted perceptions. 

While improving clinical trial awareness is important, when it comes to patient recruitment campaigns, it can be challenging to convince those feeling skeptical about research. Instead, connect with patients who are more likely to be well informed, such as those affiliated with a patient advocacy group committed to clinical trial education, or those who have already searched for a trial through clinical trial matching software

Meet patients at the right place in their disease journey. 

The first step most people take when they’re feeling sick or receive a diagnosis? Google it. More than 80% of Americans have conducted internet searches for health information. That’s one reason online advertising is so powerful for clinical trial recruitment – but it’s important that your advertising is meeting patients in the right places at the right time online. For example, if you’re running a trial for those who are already taking levodopa therapy for Parkinson’s disease, placing ads on pages related to a new diagnosis is unlikely to bring in the right patients. 

If you’re not careful about where you’re targeting patients, you can even run the risk of reaching the “worried well” – those making searches related to a condition with which they have not been diagnosed. This is also an easy mistake to make in advertising based around keyword searches. When using these kinds of platforms, consider what kind of information patients would be looking based on the disease stage the eligibility requirements call for – and not any earlier.

Don’t forget the human touch. 

With all the talk of artificial intelligence in clinical trial recruitment and other technological advances, it can feel like patients barely need to interact with a human before reaching a research site. At Antidote, we’re strong believers in technology – it can help us reach the right patients and provide a seamless experience. At the same time, health issues are often emotionally fraught and clinical trial participation is a personal decision, so it’s important to remember the human elements of recruitment. 

In terms of outreach strategy, keeping the human touch in mind means anticipating the emotional needs of patients and remaining compassionate. Ad materials should respect their audience, and reflect reality with a disease. For example, ad campaigns looking for volunteers with Alzheimer’s disease should take into account the caregiver audience, as well. 

There are also moments in the patient journey that benefit less from automation, such as customer service. While you may be able to program a bot on your website to answer questions, is that the best experience for patients considering joining your trial? Before making the decision to join a trial, most patients talk with their families or doctors about the opportunity. Patient recruitment companies and sponsors shouldn’t attempt to skip over that process with technology, but instead be ready to answer questions and consider the patient perspective throughout the recruitment process. 

Even if you can’t read minds, considering the patient journey when developing recruitment strategies can help your team stay ahead, meet your recruitment goals, and ultimately create a positive patient experience.