Patient retention is one of the greatest challenges researchers face when conducting clinical trials. It’s a familiar obstacle to all investigators. Imagine you have just invested your time and energy in a rigorous recruitment process and now you must ensure that you can retain your patients for the duration of your study. It’s easier said than done! With any clinical trial, there will always be a factor of patients dropping out. That’s just the nature of the process. There are, however, ways for you to reduce this uncertainty and take back control. While attrition is almost a guarantee, this does not mean you cannot employ certain strategies to reduce the number of patients who leave the trial. By implementing a few simple techniques to maintain your patient numbers, you’ll avoid wasting precious resources and be able to maintain a sufficient sample to ensure the validity of your study.
Offer financial incentives
One tried and tested way of retaining patients in a clinical study is to offer participants a financial incentive. Patients are likely to view the time they afford to clinical trials as more productive when they receive a monetary reward and, as a result, are more likely to complete the study. This strategy has proven effective in securing the commitment of trial patients and ensuring high participation numbers are maintained. By allocating a portion of the budget to reward participants, attrition rates can be slashed!
When it comes to clinical trials, transparency is paramount! From the purpose of the trial itself to the expectations of participants, it is essential to be as clear as possible. Research shows that the more informed patients are, the more likely they are to complete the trial. A great way of making sure patients are aware of what is expected of them during the trial is to outline these expectations from the outset. By clarifying these responsibilities prior to the trial, patients will be armed with the knowledge they need to see the trial through from start to finish. This will avoid confusion during the study and will reduce the risk of participants dropping out. In addition to clarifying patient expectations, it is also helpful to detail the purpose of the trial. It is through this education that patients can better understand the trial’s significance. An appreciation for the value of the trial and the need to provide a sufficient data sample can encourage patients to see studies through.
P.S. - Don’t forget to make your Informed Consent Form as clear and jargon-free as possible too!
It is essential to check in with patients throughout the trial. Many clinical trials see high attrition rates due to coordinators’ failure to communicate with participants after the initial recruitment period. By maintaining frequent contact, you can keep participants invested in the clinical study process. It can also help to avoid issues that arise during the study. Clinical trials are often run over long periods of time and it can be easy for patients to forget appointments. This can be alleviated by email reminders. Using patient recruitment software can also help - these tools can automate the communication process with trial participants. Similarly, patients could do with reassurance and encouragement as they progress through the trial. Reminders of the importance of their involvement and expressions of gratitude for their participation in the study can improve participant satisfaction. It’s also important to remember that communication works both ways. If participants have questions during the study, then it is up to you to respond to these in a timely manner. A responsive team will help to reassure patients that they are in good hands.
Allow for flexibility
It is important to manage your own expectations for patients in the clinical study. Taking part in a clinical trial can be taxing, especially where participants are managing a disease. It is important to be as flexible as possible and to accommodate your patients’ needs. This can be as simple as seeking feedback for appointment scheduling or having a suggestions board for appointment locations. When patients know that their input is valued, they’ll feel part of a supportive environment. By creating this within your study, you can see your patient retention rates remain high.
Every team effort requires delegation. One of the most effective ways for teams to succeed is for everyone to understand their role. By clearly defining each team member’s responsibilities at the beginning of the trial, coordinators can avoid future setbacks. This can be particularly important when it comes to specific tasks like liaising with patients. By designating this task to specific team members, patients will feel able to familiarise themselves with the staff and feel more comfortable reaching out to them. Again, this strategy can create an environment that accommodates patients’ needs and make them feel comfortable and confident in progressing through the study.
Address participants' concerns from the onset
One of the most important steps in keeping the numbers up in your clinical trial is recognising your patients’ concerns. The best time to address these is at the beginning of the process. Make sure to open a dialogue with participants and take their questions on board. Once participants know that they are being heard they feel much more at ease. Empathy is often the best tool when working with others, so if you take a minute to put yourself in your patients’ shoes, you can understand how they feel. Investigators who recognise their patients’ concerns are far more likely to keep those patients on board until the end of their study.