How to Improve Clinical Trial Patient Recruitment in 2019

There's a lot that can go wrong in clinical trial patient recruitment. You may start out with unresponsive patient leads from a site database or recruitment company with low quality referrals. Before you know it, your research sites aren't reaching recruitment goals.

When your recruitment plan starts from the patient perspective, your entire process improves. Our recent patient survey on clinical research perspectives offers some helpful insight into the best ways to connect with patients about what motivates them to participate in research opportunities. For instance, patients with different conditions have different motivations. Download the free executive summary of our survey to find out what we learned. Here are some of the finer points to work into your next outreach plan:

Diversify your outreach channels.

In our patient survey, we found that patients were most interested in hearing about clinical trial opportunities from their doctors. Unfortunately, most doctors don't have time to share trial information with patients – only one-third of those surveys had discussed clinical trials with their doctors. Instead, most patients in our survey heard about trial opportunities through digital advertisements. While digital is an important part of clinical trial recruitment, respondents ranked hearing about trials from others who have participated and from nonprofit organizations as preferred sources. These findings suggest that digital outreach may be better received if it comes from sources patients trust. Consider working with a patient recruitment company that has partnerships with nonprofits and patient advocates who can help promote your trial to their own networks, using a voice and perspective that patients may feel more comfortable with.

Understand why different patient groups are interested in taking part.

In our clinical trial patient survey, we analyzed results by condition area in addition to showing overall trends. In general, patients are most interested in participating in research for altruistic reasons, helping move research forward for everyone living with a condition. Receiving payment for participation ranked last in general. We did find, however, that motivational rankings varied from condition area to condition area. For example, asthma and allergy patients were more than twice as likely as lung cancer or melanoma patients to cite monetary compensation as an important motivator. When developing your outreach materials, consider the specific reasons your patient population may have for joining the trial, and highlight them – within FDA guidelines, of course – in your outreach materials.

Work backwards from your patient recruitment rate.

Before starting work on a patient recruitment plan, take the time to calculate your clinical trial recruitment rate. This number will give you the number of randomizations per month, per research site that you'll need to reach your goals. If the number seems high, you'll know that you'll most likely need to enlist strategies outside the site level to keep your trial on time and on track.

Provide critical information up front.

One of the top decision-making factors for patients in our survey was whether or not the trial would interfere with their current treatment regimen. If your trial uses a placebo and does require patients to suspend current treatment, consider sharing that information up front to reduce drop-off later on. On the other hand, if your trial will be measuring the effectiveness of a potential new treatment against the existing standard of care, highlight that information in your outreach materials. Letting patients know both the benefits and drawbacks of taking part can help them make the most informed decision possible when joining your trial – and will then be less likely to drop out of your trial, too.

Consider the full patient journey.

Before launching a patient recruitment plan, consider the entire patient journey through the eyes of the patient. How far do you predict patients will be willing to travel to reach your research sites? Are there any steps patients need to take before visiting a site, such as having a lab test done or answering questions over the phone? Accounting for steps along the way can help avoid roadblocks and proactively factor complexity into your projected recruitment funnel. Conducting patient interviews or surveys can help offer insight into particular needs that may be important to different patient groups. For example, we found in our survey that logistical factors, such as the location of the trial or the availability of travel services, were most important to kidney disease and multiple sclerosis patients.