5 reasons why it's so hard to find clinical trial volunteers

Thousands of research studies and clinical trials are carried out every year around the world with the hope of bringing potential treatment options and medical devices to market. However, approximately 80% of clinical trials are delayed or closed because of problems with recruitment. Clinical trials require a careful, meticulous approach to selecting participants, and finding the volunteers who fit the bill is not an easy feat. Below are five reasons why research teams fail to recruit patients for their clinical trials.

Competing clinical trials

Competition is usually a good thing, and when it’s healthy, it encourages individuals and organizations to work harder, faster, and better. Competition often happens in clinical trials, with companies and researchers working on similar treatment options at the same time, same locations, and sometimes even same sites.

Competing trials can be great for patients: the more trials for a given condition, the more potential treatment options are being tested, and, hopefully, the more products make it to market as a result. However, competing trials can be difficult for sponsors. When the patient population is small, and the number of preferred sites is even smaller, the competition for those clinical trial volunteers can be fierce.

When two or more studies are in direct competition, there will inevitably be a lot of recruitment time and resources wasted that could have been applied to other valuable projects. The real downside is that, since patients are spread across competing trials, research is slowed down and potential treatments are not reaching those who need them fast enough.

Doctor-to-doctor referrals

A typical study involves only a small number of investigators conducting the trials. Often, they rely on their own list of patients, plus others being referred to them from clinics in the area. The problem is that too few doctors actually refer their patients to other doctors and investigators, which creates a challenge for recruiting eligible patients. 

There are many reasons for the low number of doctor-to-doctor referrals, from not having a robust communication system between doctors to concerns about losing patients to a neighboring clinic, and this is true for many private and public practices worldwide.

More transparency, electronic health records, and a system that incentivizes referrals can be useful measures to encourage physicians to refer more patients and simplify the search process for potential volunteers.

Lack of information

It’s extremely hard for patients to find reliable information about research studies and clinical trials – on or offline – and it’s even harder to make use of the little information there is.

Patients have traditionally learned about medical research from their physicians, but the internet has changed the rules of this game as well. Millions of patients are turning to search engines, health portals, forums, and patient communities to find out what options are. However, the actual content available is not always suitable for lay readers.

That’s why we created Antidote Match, a leading trial matching engine that uses structured eligibility criteria and proprietary algorithms to explore a patient’s eligibility for every trial. When patients answer a few simple questions about their health, Antidote Match provides a list of trials that they might be a fit for, with clearly defined information about the trials. By making information about trials more accessible, we hope to make the barriers to entry a bit more manageable. 

Too strict eligibility criteria

Clinical trials require conditions to be as controlled as possible to deliver meaningful results. But “as possible” is a relative concept, and sometimes the requirements (inclusion and exclusion criteria) that patients must meet in order to participate in a study can be too strict.

From a scientific point of view, it would be ideal to conduct a study on individuals with a long list of very precise characteristics, but in real life, it may be that there just aren’t enough people who would fit that narrow bill.

The trade-off between the purity of the data vs. wider eligibility poses a permanent challenge, but there may be ways to narrow the gap without significantly compromising the quality of the results. More transparency and distribution of existing data would be hugely beneficial in determining to what extent these patients really are like finding needles in a haystack.

No patient recruitment plan

When designing a trial, companies traditionally rely on researchers’ estimations and historical data from similar trials to prepare enrollment forecasts. But in reality, the circumstances around each trial vary too much to bank on past experiences. And still, the results would only be forecasts, without details about the recruitment tactics planned to achieve enrollment goals.

Surprisingly, a fraction of studies includes a methodical set of measures prepared in advance to determine how the patients will be found, who will be responsible for it, and how much time and money will be required.

If the saying is true, and failing to plan is like planning to fail, this could be reason number one why so many clinical trials fail to meet their enrollment deadlines.

When this is the case, it’s critical to reach out to a clinical trial patient recruitment company that is an expert in finding the right patients for trials. Clinical trial patient recruitment companies like Antidote use a range of methods, from creating digital advertising to fostering community partnerships and building prescreeners, to find the right patients for your trial.

Considering working with a clinical trial recruitment company? Antidote has proven successful in saving sponsors recruitment time while providing a positive experience for patients. Chances are, we have a solution that's the right fit for your trial.