How to Increase Patient Recruitment in Clinical Trials

There are several ways to increase patient recruitment in your clinical trials, from improving your outreach materials, to better communicating with patients, to working with partners to make the right connections. But the first step is to figure out why your outreach efforts aren't working in the first place. From there, you can find the solution that has the best chance of attracting more interested, eligible patients to your trial.

Step 1: Diagnose the problem.

Before you start making changes to your recruitment efforts, try to more precisely identify where your outreach is going wrong. Are patients clicking on your ads, but not filling out your prescreener? Are patients expressing interest in the trial, but not answering their phones? Or are patients not clicking on your ads to begin with? Pinpointing the problem can help you choose the right solution, and avoid wasting more time or money without a clear strategy.

You can also look for clues in how patients are interacting with your ads. Are you getting a lot of confused questions on your Facebook posts? Do you have a high bounce rate – patients who land on your page but then immediately leave? There may be something off in your messaging. For example, patients may believe that you're advertising an approved treatment, rather than a clinical trial opportunity, if your ad copy isn't clear enough.

Step 2: Create a better experience for patients.

Once you've diagnosed where your outreach is going wrong, you can start testing solutions. If you have additional approved options for outreach materials, test different combinations that may more clearly communicate your message and emphasize the benefits of joining the trial. You can also try adjusting the information you share about the trial. Patients report that they find it useful to know up front where the trial will be located and the goal of the study. Try including the information most pertinent to patients in order to increase recruitment. If patients aren't answering their phones for a follow-up call, try texting or emailing in addition to calling, or leave your number so they can reach back out at their convenience. Identify where patients are dropping off in your recruitment process, and focus your efforts there.

Step 3: Connect with local partners.

One way to expand your reach if digital efforts aren't working well is to connect with local partners. Health nonprofits and patient advocates in your area may be willing to share your trial with their communities, or invite you to an in-person event such as a health fair where you can connect with patients. Patient advocates may also help you better understand your trial population and what factors patients may consider when choosing to participate in a clinical trial.

Step 4: Access a patient database or work with a recruitment company.

Another option besides running your own patient outreach is to work with a recruitment company. Some recruitment companies maintain databases of patients who have already expressed interest in taking part in a clinical trial, so they may be more likely to take part in your opportunity. Recruitment companies may also have more experience managing digital outreach, or have relationships with nonprofit or patient advocacy partners. If you're considering working with a recruitment company, take a look at these 10 questions we recommend asking to help you find the right fit for your trial.

Step 5: Update the sponsor on challenges at your site.

If you're noticing that most patients aren't qualifying for your trial because of certain eligibility criteria, consider sharing this feedback with the trial sponsor.

"Sites should update the status of referrals – why they screen failed, if they were contacted – because then sites can feed those insights back to the sponsor," said Vanessa Lopez, Account Manager at Antidote. "Sometimes the sponsor will even take that feedback and make protocol adjustments."

If the criteria for your trial are too restrictive, it can be difficult to work around with other outreach efforts. Patient advocates or an experienced patient recruitment company may be able to help in those cases, too.

And remember, one of the best ways to support recruitment before you even launch your campaigns is to create a thorough plan in advance. Download our detailed template to start prepping for your next trial.