It is well known that clinical trial studies are often set-back before they begin by the pre-identification and recruitment of patients.
One of the fundamental challenges faced by sites, CROs and sponsors that are engaged in clinical trials is the recruitment and retention of volunteer participants. Various issues around recruitment need to be overcome before the recruitment period opens to ensure a measured approach to enrolling the required number of patients within the required timeframe. Some of the most common factors that affect the recruitment include the lack of preparation and planning before opening a trial; relying too heavily on Principal Investigator and referring physician patient referrals; minimal marketing and advertising budget and under-resourced sites who are not in a position to be able to handle the influx of enquiries during the advertising campaign.
Here are our 5 tips to improve your recruitment process
Preparation is key: well before the clinical trial recruitment period opens thoroughly review the protocol and identify any challenges such as the study schedule, inclusion/exclusion criteria, competing trials for the same study population and time of year (will there be visits on or around public holidays for instance). Review the allocated recruitment budget and start planning key dates for advertising campaigns keeping in mind recruitment deadlines.
Engage: research local community events, patient organisations, charities, consumer health organisations and universities to determine which ones are worth reaching out to about the trial. Most groups have regular publications that could feature information about the trial but you will need to know their deadlines well in advance.
Previous trial participants are like gold. Re-engage with those who completed trials in the same patient population to inform them of the new trial and enquire if they would have and friends or relatives that may be interested. Ask if they would be happy to pass on the trial participant information to others or share a testimonial on their trial experience.
Bring in the experts: you wouldn’t want an engineer to do a medical consultation so why not hire an external marketing agency to create marketing collateral, manage social media campaigns and ensure the right messages are going to the right audience. There is an art and a science to delivering key messages to potential trial participants. The details of planning, buying and negotiating media such as radio, tv, digital and print often leads to overspending and under-performance when not done by a professional. By bringing in experts you may be able to significantly stretch advertising dollars and extend target audience reach that would normally go untapped.
Ensure resourcing is in place for the duration of the recruitment period: There is a very quick way to waste precious advertising budget and that is to have numerous potential volunteers register with the site, who are then not followed up in a timely manner. A high level of customer service is essential to ensuring a positive experience and retention of participants. Consider your last experience at a restaurant, was it great service? Would you recommend it to your friends and colleagues or was it a bad experience that you promptly told the world on social media never to dine at? Trial participants judge sites in the same way – were their questions answered satisfactorily? Did they get seen by the medical officer in a timely manner? After screening were they kept informed regularly and communicated to regarding what was expected of them during the trial? All of these questions need to be taken into consideration and staff training and coaching should be provided if those taking phone enquries do not feel confident or are lacking in customer service experience. Also consider hiring staff for outside business hours to ensure enquiries don’t build up.
Monitor and report on your recruitment activities: As part of the planning stage set sub-targets for sites to achieve throughout the recruitment period. It is much more manageable to recruit 1 patient per month than 4 patients in 2 weeks! Keep records and provide reports on a regular basis on total number of enquiries, number pre-screened, number booked for screening, number excluded and reasons for exclusion. Look for trends and identify any common issues with inclusion/exclusion criteria early. If you are the CRO, provide feedback to sites on a regular basis and let them know how they are performing in comparison to other sites. Share feedback amongst sites particularly what worked well for the top-performing site so other sites can implement the same method in sufficient time.
We hope these tips assist with recruitment for your next trial. If you require any further information or would like a quote for our services please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What worked for your trial? Let us know by posting a comment below.