How clinical trial patient recruitment and retention work together

Recruiting and retaining patients are two of the most challenging aspects of clinical trials. The average clinical trial must extend its recruitment timeline by 71%, and up to 30% of patients will eventually drop out. While patients can leave a trial if it is not a good fit for them, there are patient-centric approaches that can make enrolling and participating in a study a more enjoyable experience.

Designing a trial with patients in mind can enable the outreach and retention strategies to be in sync from the beginning so patients can be connected to research and feel appreciated during the trial's duration. Below, we will go through some common reasons why patients opt out of a trial and how they can be addressed.

Alleviating issues with clinical trial recruitment and retention

The problem: Patients leave because they don't understand something about the trial.
The solution: Clear communication.

Communication about the trial's details should start as soon as recruitment begins. Outreach materials can efficiently address the common questions patients have about participating in the trial, including the trial’s goal, if a placebo will be used, and the benefits and risks of enrolling. Materials can also call out any unique perks specific to the study, such as if compensation is offered or if visits can be conducted from home.

The problem: Patients drop out because the trial doesn't fit their schedule.
The solution: Thoughtfully design protocols and provide visit details early.

One common barrier to patient enrollment in clinical trials is the requirement of multiple, time-consuming site visits. When possible, protocols should be designed with this element in mind, ensuring patients do not have to do more than is necessary for the research. In tandem with this, it can be helpful to inform patients about site location, time commitments, and travel reimbursement early on so they can decide if the trial is a good fit from the beginning.

The problem: Patients don't feel appreciated during the trial.
The solution: Train staff to keep in contact.

One of the most important ways to help patients feel more appreciated is to answer questions promptly, whether in the early stages of recruitment or after an individual has been randomized. Throughout the trial, train staff on frequently asked questions and ensure team members can answer questions via phone and email.

The problem: Patients don't benefit from the treatment.
The solution: Educate patients about the benefits of research participation.

If patients aren’t finding the treatment beneficial, it is understandable that they may want to leave. However, there are many reasons to participate beyond receiving a potential treatment. In a recent CISCRP survey, patients placed nearly equal importance on receiving a possible treatment and helping advance knowledge about their condition. Sharing information with potential and current participants about the importance of volunteering can help keep this vital aspect of research participation in mind.

Looking for help developing an effective clinical trial recruitment plan? Download our template to create a plan that works for your trial.