Fear of the doctor: how to destigmatize clinical trials


We all know that doctors and dentists are pain-loving Satanists. With their pointy needles and sharpened scalpels among their arsenal of torture weapons, medical professionals will probably always have to justify their sanity. But did you know that, for a growing number of people, the black macabre of the devil doctor is more real than ironic?


It’s estimated that 9 million people in the US have developed a fear of visiting their local physician, with the Center for Disease Control reporting that 34% of Americans aged 18 to 64 had not spoken with or seen a doctor in a year. Any phobia of medical practice does not bode well with clinical research; after all, human trials won't operate without willing patients. So how do you market clinical trials to potential patients without Hannibal Lecter scaring them off?


The trick is trust. Put potential candidates at ease by building solid, meaningful relationships between your researchers and your patients. Here at Citruslabs, we've got a lot of experience in patient retention, so we've put together a top tips list that is sure to make any trial recruitment process less of a horror show.


Promote the humanitarian


Charity doesn’t begin and end with local fundraisers and national appeals. The desire to make a difference is embedded in our ideas of happiness, with research suggesting that we would rather do something for someone else than for ourselves. It is the human desire for charitable giving that research sites should factor in when speaking to skeptical candidates.


Yet, simply stating your philanthropy is no longer enough. According to a recent poll, when it comes to charitable giving, people are often ruled by their hearts, not their heads. Don’t chuck data or statistics at potential patients - their feelings are feelings, not logical facts. On the whole, a more personal narrative is preferred by the public when considering charitable action. A study by The Independent found that a third of respondents were more inclined to give to a cause if it has helped someone close to them. So, when recruiting candidates for any study, it is wise to be in touch with your emotions and empathize with the individual.

Research sites must create a personal, relatable narrative to communicate to potential candidates - especially those with concerns or fears about the procedures involved. It's all about storytelling, so let's get creative! Here are several techniques to master your design:


  • Consider centering promotional material around a case study. For instance, Cancer Research UK’s ‘thanks to your research’ tv ads provide an insight into the lives of former patients who’ve thrived on the company’s research.

  • Why not partner with other trustworthy brands? People tend to form relationships through mutual friends.

  • Get on social media and share your positive energy. Starting a conversation in popular spheres challenges the scaremongering surrounding clinical research.


Don’t think of it as emotional marketing, but as establishing a connection between you and your patients. Remember, we are all connected by a common cause: a universal love for mankind and progress. It’s up to research sites to remind us of our humanity.


Educate about eligibility


They say ignorance is bliss, but they weren’t talking about public awareness of clinical studies! A recent survey found that two-thirds of respondents didn't know who clinical trials were targeted at. The same study suggests around half of all Americans are not aware that clinical trials even exist. Within the mass uncertainty, however, one thing is clear: a lack of familiarity equals a lack of confidence.


Not to worry:, the nationwide "not for me" attitude can be easily countered by education. The path to enlightenment is part of the marketing plan of any strong, feasibility analysis. (Check out our top tip for managing your feasibilities here). A plan that targets a specific demographic with the right, relatable sound bites is sure to bring ease to suspicious minds. Use the numbers and statistics redundant in your humanitarian pledge to outline your ideal candidate and relinquish any misconceptions. Share, retweet, or regram to let people know if they can get involved. In short, focus your early efforts on advertising and, by doing so, spreading awareness. At the end of the day, any researcher's goal should be to make participation in clinical studies the accepted, the norm, and the "for me."


Clarity is key


Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to the detail of any study. Yet, so many research sites view it as an obstacle, a grounding force on their high-flying pursuits. Unfortunately, the issue they face is due to a technicality: there is a difference between being right and being true. This difference, if not spotted, produces unintentional, damaging effects on the information given by researchers to patients. An inappropriate tone to pitch ideas off of could leave your study not only sounding flat, but flat-lining.


The distinction between our problematic concepts is that one implies self-interest where the other suggests unity and openness. Above all else, people want safety and security. Nothing says safety more than transparency and a good intention, so make sure that they are at the heart of everything you write. Channel your passion for the project in a polite yet conversational tone. Keep industry-level terminology to a minimum - unnecessary difficulty only leads to the work sounding unrelatable or elitist. Brevity and clarity are your writing partners. Be precise and be clear when detailing the trial’s’ length, costs, location, etc. While it is impossible for research sites to know the outcome of any trial before it’s even begun, note your predictions with a confidence that comforts even the most incertain of patients.


Underline potential risks


It’s a fact that risk-taking can produce life or death situations. It’s strongly linked to the behavioral patterns of people who develop the two deadliest diseases in the US - cancer and cardiovascular disease - and it's the dopamine buzz all daredevils crave. So, it’s not hard to see why, when it comes to personal health, low-risk options are almost always preferred. While it is totally unethical not to disclose potential risks to patients, it is also detrimental to plaster a low-risk study with health scares from the outset. Balancing moral integrity and your clinical research's image takes skill to perform. The trick is to emphasize risks without exaggerating them.


Risk communication is defined as ‘the open, two-way exchange of information and opinion about risk, leading to a better understanding of the risk in question’; so, it’s crucial to create dialogue - not dictate. Research sites need to be clued up about all aspects of the study. Providing patients with an informed choice is a proven link to greater satisfaction with the process of care. A recent study suggests that the general public has problems with basic numeracy. This means trouble for our data-driven researcher. Facts and figures must be simplified down to common sense ideas as any confusion will only lead to insecurity on the patient's part. Effective risk communication is all about knowing your stuff while expressing it in a way that brings you and your patient eye to eye. It’s a hard balancing act to master - but it’s not impossible.


For many sufferers of "white-coat syndrome", a fear of the unknown is what makes the doctor’s office a torture chamber. Clinical research recruiters can calm unnecessary worry by knowing their audience, spreading awareness, and varying their tone. Build a bond of trust that extends not only from medical professional to patient but from one person to another. With the right delivery and a passion for your study, the patient recruitment process can be cured of the stigma it suffers from.



Here, we’ve created the ideal patient recruitment dashboard to help researchers improve their current metrics. With over 3 million patients on record, we ensure research sites are connected to a thoroughly educated and engaged pool of participants; so, it is no wonder why we have such high patient confidence! Now, we would say that other models are available - but this would be a lie. In fact, unlike that offered by other patient recruitment companies, our easy-to-use dashboard is the first-of-its-kind for the market; giving researchers a unique insight into their patients’ wants and needs via industry-leading technology. The future of clinical recruitment starts here.

  • Interested in finding out more? Get in touch with us here, and check out our archives for all our top tips and tricks on running successful clinical trials in today's constantly changing industry.

Still a little unsure? Check out what our customers have to say about us here.

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