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

Globally, there are thousands of research studies and clinical trials conducted each year, all with the shared goal of bringing new treatment options and medical devices to the market. However, approximately 80% of clinical trials are delayed or closed because of problems with recruitment. 

Finding and reaching the right participants is one of the most difficult clinical trial recruitment challenges — but understanding where the roadblocks in this process commonly arise can help sponsors better understand how to proactively address issues.

Common challenges to reaching clinical trial enrollment goals

Competing clinical trials

Competition in the clinical trial space can be a good thing — it can encourage research organizations to think outside of the box to increase their trial participation. However, this competition can often involve researchers working on similar treatment options at the same time, in the same areas, and sometimes even at the same sites, which can create a significant overlap that can hamper enrollment.

When studies are in direct competition, it can result in wasted time and resources to attract patients to the study, especially if the patient population is small or the scope of the study is limited. In these situations, it is vital to tailor outreach to potentially eligible participants as much as possible. Emphasizing inclusion and exclusion criteria and sharing the benefits of participating in recruitment materials can help reach the right patients for the specific trial, cutting down on unnecessary spending and outreach efforts.

Doctor-to-doctor referrals

Generally, studies involve a small number of investigators conducting the trial, and they often rely on their own patients as well as others that are sourced from direct referrals. Unfortunately, many practitioners are unable to keep up with the latest ongoing research, meaning that direct referrals can be extremely rare.

There are several reasons for the low number of doctor-to-doctor referrals, but increasing communication can address these directly. 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

One of the biggest patient barriers to research participation is a lack of reliable, easy-to-access information about clinical trials. Patients have traditionally learned about medical research from their physicians, but the rise of the internet has led to more people searching for more health information online. Millions of patients are turning to search engines, health portals, forums, and patient communities to find out what their options are, but the lack of available content can result in them not finding the information they need.

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. Patients are able to answer a few simple questions about their health, and Match will provide a list of trials that they might be a fit for alongside clearly defined information about each study. By making information about trials more accessible, we hope to make the barriers to entry a bit more manageable. 

Overly strict eligibility criteria

The nature of research requires that the conditions in a clinical trial are as controlled as possible to deliver meaningful results — but “as possible” is a relative concept. Oftentimes, the inclusion and exclusion criteria of a clinical trial can be unnecessarily strict, leading to a very limited number of patients being eligible to participate.

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. Considering how a study’s eligibility criteria will be applied to the real-world patient population can help sponsors better think through which requirements are truly needed for the trial to proceed.

No patient recruitment plan

In the design phases of a clinical trial, sponsors will typically rely on researchers’ estimations and historical data from similar trials to prepare enrollment forecasts. However, because the circumstances around each trial can vary widely, it can often be a hindrance to rely on past experiences.

Surprisingly, only a fraction of studies include an actual recruitment plan to determine how the patients will be found, who will be responsible for it, what clinical trial recruitment tools will be used, and how much time and money will be required. Simply planning ahead, whether it’s working with a clinical trial patient recruitment company or conducting outreach in-house, can make a major difference in finding the right number of patients for successful research.

Considering working with a clinical trial recruitment company? Antidote has proven successful in saving sponsors recruitment time while providing a positive experience for patients. Get in touch today to see how we can help.