Zed Williamson

6 Proven Clinical Trial Recruitment Strategies

Clinical trial recruitment is often more difficult and complicated than anticipated. Use these proven strategies to boost your results.

Illustration of people forming an up trend graph

Did you know that approximately 85% of clinical trials fail to recruit enough patients? Many even end before they can get treatments approved. While it seems straightforward, recruitment can be quite complicated to execute and hit your numbers on time.

Often times, there are gaps when it comes to the recruitment expertise necessary to run a successful trial.

Before we cover these top clinical trial recruitment strategies, let’s go over some of the fundamentals of effective trial recruitment preparation. To simplify, let’s assume you are ready to recruit and randomize patients.

Before you start recruitment, lay the right groundwork

Learn your patients’ needs, interests, and preferences

Each patient has their own life, keep it in mind while designing the process. The perfect patient does not come out of a faucet when you turn the spigot. Recruitment is a form of sales, and effective selling means you’re keeping the patients’ interests front and center. That means, as a researcher, you need to understand what your patients will want, what they are concerned about, and what they expect from participating in your trial.

Establish your timeline

As you plan out your recruitment strategies, you will want to consider what recruitment timeline you want to use.

Make it easy

The easier it is to participate in your study, the easier it will be to recruit new patients. That means you need to have low barriers to entry. For starters, the signup process should be as simple as possible, with clear next steps and expectations.

If your study is difficult to understand, or requires multiple follow-ups, patients will be less likely to enter the study.Do not add unnecessary barriers to participation.

With these basics in mind, let’s explore 6 proven clinical trial recruitment strategies to help you hit your numbers.

1. Establish partnerships with healthcare providers and other organizations

Before getting into direct outreach, you should first look to organizations that patients trust. These methods are often the best way to get reliable trial participants.

Hospitals and other practices

A CISCRP survey found 64% of patients would rather hear about a clinical trial from their own healthcare provider, rather than a third party. That means one of your most effective strategies will be reaching out to a network of physicians who can refer patients to you.

This turns recruitment into a helpful and informed recommendation, rather than an advertisement.

That said, don’t make or blindly expect the caregivers to do all the legwork. Prepare any helpful outreach materials, such as brochures, emails, or web pages that physicians can provide to their patients. Set up simple expectations of behavior in the office.

Watch out: Just because the practice has a large population of the perfect patient demographic, don’t be surprised if recruitment is slow. There are many variables at an office that will be a barrier to entry.

  • Lack of buy in from staff: The staff of the office can make or break a study. Do they understand the study? Do they like it? Do they return calls quickly?
  • Multiple studies: If an office is doing multiple studies, yours may be low on the priority list…how does it compare in difficulty, ROI, time, etc
  • Uncomfortable asking patients: If a trial is new to an office it may have sounded like a great idea when they agreed to the contract…then humans get involved and they may realize they are not comfortable asking existing patients to participate.
  • Known solution is offered: If the office is already treating patients for the disease state, keep in mind how your trial gets presented to that patient.  

What’s in it for them? At TrackableMed, we’ve run clinical recruitment campaigns that help structure the buy-in and marketing on the client side. If you don’t account for both the patient and physician’s needs and behaviors, you may still be stuck spinning your wheels. 

Learn more about our clinical trial recruitment services.

For tips on how to work with hospitals, check out this podcast episode about selling to hospitals.  

Nonprofits and advocacy groups

Similarly to caregiver partnerships, you can increase trial awareness and credibility by partnering with nonprofit organizations or patient advocacy groups. This can help you reach patients who might not be in your database, and who will now feel safer taking part in your trial.

Partnerships like these are often either free or low-cost, depending on who you’re partnering with, and what kind of trial you’re conducting. In some instances, organizations won’t charge for a direct patient referral, but might expect a fee if you want them to send promotional emails on your behalf.

2. Get referrals from other patients or participants

Similarly, people are more likely to consider trial participation if they’ve been referred by a friend or family member. In the marketing world, 92% of customers will trust a referral from people they know, and are 37% more likely to stay loyal to the organization in question.

While the stats differ between industries, the principle remains the same: referrals are more effective than outreach, when it comes to recruiting and retaining study participants.

Think about messaging and message delivery tools that will help you motivate participants to refer people they know.

3. Market directly to the patients

While it may seem like you could have a harder time building trust with patients compared to recruitment via referrals or partnerships, marketing and advertising can help you reach incredibly large audiences. There are many myths about direct to patient advertising, but it’s important to know that if you do it right, it is a game changer. The key here is leaning into the psychology of the patient, helping them understand their pain, and inviting them to be part of a solution for the greater good.

On that note, here are some popular marketing channels to consider:

Targeted online advertising

Digital advertising is a great way to reach potential clinical trial participants. This is most commonly done throughGoogle Ads, or on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube,TikTok, etc.  

You can use online ads to target specific demographics, regions, and interests, making it easier to find the people who are most likely to be interested in your clinical trial. We’ve seen this to be effective for driving patients to explore a new technology. For example, learn how one campaign garnered over 6,000 calls for a new technology in the urology space, and increased cases by 79%.

Email lists

If you have a list of email addresses for potential clinical trial participants, you can reach out to them directly with information about your study. This can be a great way to get the word out about your clinical trial and find people who are interested in participating.

In some cases you may be able to purchase email lists from other organizations (when it’s a more general study for instance, and doesn’t interfere with HIPAA regulations), though email deliverability can still be an obstacle here if you don’t have access to email marketing experts.

Traditional advertising and mass media

While these types of ads are less popular than they used to be, they can still wildly effective, especially if speed is important to you. It all comes down to targeting and messaging.  

  • Radio ads in local or regional radio stations.
  • TV ads can reach a large audience. Local channels will typically be more cost effective, but cable offers very specific niche audience targeting as well.
  • Flyers and posters in public places, such as practices, hospitals, and community centers.
  • Newspaper ads in newspapers that your audience might read (online or physical)

4. Consider virtual trials to reduce commutes for patients

Currently, more than 2 of every 3 potential clinical trial patients live over two hours from a given study location, which makes it less tempting to participate in trials. As mentioned earlier, you should consider any option that makes signing up easier for patients. Virtual trials are becoming increasingly popular among researchers, when the study allows for it.

Patients with longer commute times to the research center are around 20% less likely to show up to subsequent in-person visits.

Virtual trials, sometimes called decentralized trials, incorporate newer technologies to reduce the need to commute to a central location. These technologies include things like telehealth appointments, patient apps, electronic clinical-outcome assessments (eCOAs),online video dosing instructions, and wearables.

5. Use strategic follow-up practices

Just because you’re thinking about your trial all the time, doesn’t mean potential patients are. Whether they’ve already committed or they’re still considering it, you need to follow up at appropriate times (and through the right communication channels) to remind them.

This means more than just sending out the occasional text or email, but having a strategic approach to engaging in a way that catches their attention, and encourages a response. The right channel can vary from person to person, so this process can get complicated quickly.

Generally, this is something that a good recruitment company can help you with.

6. Hire a clinical trial patient recruitment company

You can’t always find great recruitment teams in the clinical field, and you can’t always find great healthcare experts in the recruitment world. Outsourcing the recruitment legwork to a clinical trial recruitment company can be a huge help, but you need to make sure they’re bringing relevant expertise.

A good recruitment company will be well-versed in the healthcare industry in general (and clinical trials in particular),while still bringing expertise in recruitment and marketing. They will be patient-centric,IRB-compliant, and will focus on getting you reliable participants — not just a database of unusable leads.

When you work with TrackableMed, we manage your entire campaign, taking full accountability, while giving you control of services and timelines.

That means you get customized, direct-to-patient outreach to attract patients that match your ideal audience profile — while still remaining cost efficient from day one.

See our clinical trial recruitment services page to learn more.