Road to success: A clinical trial recruitment plan [downloadable template]

Patient recruitment is the most expensive and difficult part of a clinical trial, with recruitment costs representing 40% of the total budget

There are multiple reasons why recruitment is so challenging, from patients being unaware or untrusting of clinical trials to increasingly complex eligibility criteria. 

As much as 86% of clinical trials fail to reach enrollment timelines, which may lead to trial delays that cost sponsors between $600,000 and $8 million per day. 

Making patients aware of your clinical trial is a major cost factor. And while leveraging digital media for trial promotion is more affordable and more wide-reaching than traditional media, ineffective ad targeting can lead to increased trial costs and/or ineligible patients. Having a solid clinical trial recruitment plan can mitigate these challenges.

Improving eligibility and reducing costs through research

A successful clinical trial recruitment plan starts with research into the targeted patient population. And even if you've run trials for a particular condition area before, don’t assume your campaigns for one trial can be replicated in the next trial. Nuances in the protocol can make it more difficult – or easier – to reach eligible patients.

Before you choose your ad targeting and platforms, you’ll need to have a solid understanding of the patient population. Some of the questions you’ll need to answer may include:

  • Does this condition disproportionately impact certain groups?
  • What are the most challenging parts of living with this condition?
  • What barriers to clinical trial participation does this patient population face?
  • How would better treatment options improve the quality of life for this patient population?

Developing a deeper understanding of the patient population will influence outreach materials and digital media platform selection, and have an impact on down funnel metrics.

Planning for creative success

After you've conducted research on a specific patient population, the next step is to plan ad targeting and creative materials for the trial. 

Based on your research, outline ad targeting categories, keywords, and interest groups on selected digital media platforms, such as Meta-owned properties (Facebook and Instagram, in particular) and paid search. Besides Meta, there are additional social media platforms to consider advertising through, based on your patient population. Design A/B tests as part of your campaign launch to determine which materials perform best. and details that you would like to test out when you launch your campaigns. 

Your outreach materials should use imagery and copy based on your research. Consider how patients talk about their own condition and the terminology they use among themselves to help ensure your ads communicate your message as clearly as possible. What are patients talking about online when they’re not at a site or a doctor’s office? Engage with Facebook groups, Instagram hashtags, and TikTokers to gain insight into matters to patients, such as attitudes toward clinical research and what treatment regimens individuals are using.

Additionally, work with individual patients, advocacy groups, and non-profits to get their take on the materials. “The only way to gather authentic data about what patients will respond to is to systematically sample patient feedback directly, whether in the form of focus groups, interviews, surveys, or mock trials,” said Clinical Ambassador’s Allison Kalloo in an interview with Antidote.

In your creative options, you may also want to include some educational information about clinical trials. Research suggests that while people are willing to join a trial, there is often a gap in knowledge about what participation entails. Compounding this challenge is that, in many cases, clinical trial search information online on sites like is not patient-friendly and provides a poor search experience.

Keep your ad copy free from medical jargon and simplify the language so it is understood by all. According to a study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, Only 12% of Americans are “health literate,” so keep reading level and numeracy in mind when creating materials. 

The images you select should be based on your research and align with the diversity of your patient population. Include images that reflect the patient experience. Taken together, the imagery and copy of your ads should speak to the patient population and inspire trust so they may be encouraged to take the next step. 

Looking for more guidance? Download our free clinical trial patient recruitment plan template to help set your trial up for success.