• Joanna Thomson

3 lessons in patient retention we learned from lockdown


Due to the knock-on effects of lockdown, patient retention strategies used across the clinical research industry became practically useless. It was only a matter of months ago that 81% of European research sites had indicated already-enrolled patients were “much less or somewhat less likely” to continue participating in trials. Fortunately, these statistics have improved and patient confidence is now stronger than ever.


According to Healthgrades’ COVID-19 Patient Confidence Study, around 86% of patients surveyed are now comfortable visiting health care providers. And with patients now willing to return to the medical environment, it is absolutely crucial that research sites are prepared for any future lockdown scenarios. How they can best equip themselves for future spikes is by rethinking their patient engagement and retention plans. So, with that in mind, here are 3 lessons that we learned over lockdown that research sites should take note of when rethinking their patient retention strategy.


We want to get back to normal.


If we have learned anything from our time in lockdown, it’s that people are longing for a piece of normality. In fact, in the research industry today, this may seem like a bit of an understatement. The prioritising of COVID-19 research by governments worldwide has produced a huge knock-on effect in clinical research; with a mass of research being deemed ‘non-essential’ and, as a result, paused until further notice.

With over 4 million people in the UK now tracking their health on the NHS COVID Symptom Study app, critics have read this surge in participation as a sheer want by the public to tackle the virus and ‘return to normal’. In fact, the success of the UK’s track and trace system makes it the largest public science project of its kind anywhere in the world. So, how exactly does this affect patient retention? For one, it is clear from the number of users that we are seeing an amazing boost in public awareness of - and involvement in - clinical research.


Track and trace apps are working to boost confidence in potential patients as the public familiarise themselves, on a daily basis, with the kind of interfaces that research sites now, in our digital age, build their clinical studies around. In addition, these apps are proving that there is perhaps more of a willingness, now, by the public to use technology as a means of monitoring their own health and, as a need for humanitarianism in this crisis evolves, the health of the nation as well. Not only do people want normal, but they are keen to be a part of the new normal.


We are relying on telemedicine.


What is evident today is that any research sites interested in reworking their business operations for future lockdowns must now seriously consider technological solutions. With a study published in Neurology finding people no longer view telemedicine as “inferior” to traditional evaluations, the fact that public opinion has changed must now prompt more inventive approaches in future clinical research and treatment development.

As in-person medical care is an increasing challenge for many, a reinvention of clinical protocol will now save a vast amount of patients a trip to the pharmacy. A report published by the American Migraine Foundation backs up this claim by recommending telemedication as an alternative to traditional methodologies, proving telehealth solutions as especially beneficial under social-distancing regulations.


A recent report by Forte Research found that 48% of patients who dropped out of pre-COVID studies said they were primarily motivated by “myself” to stay enrolled. If we compare this with the 20% who listed “their relationship with the study staff” as a motivational factor, it’s clear that feelings of isolation seem to be a common occurrence among patients. One of the key benefits of telehealth solutions is that the researcher and the patient are linked by the software used to perform the study. The use of digital messaging platforms for patients to discuss their worries directly with staff means that research sites can improve their patient retention rates by helping to shape clinical trials into comfortable and patient-friendly environments.


We are switching to digital.


It is no surprise to most that lockdown and social-distancing measures would mean a temporary reinvention of standard clinical protocol - but what many did not realise was that the temporary would soon be the new norm. A study published at the start of June 2020 by clinical data specialists, ERT, reveals a 33% increase in the number of research organisations now using virtual trial approaches. Interestingly, this same report notes just under 10% of those surveyed had no need to employ virtual methods in the future; establishing a want for digital trial methodologies firmly in the majority of general opinion.

What is clear is that traditional methods of clinical recruitment and patient-welfare just aren’t cutting it anymore. With our digital world now demanding digital solutions, clinical research recruiters must now seriously consider the impact of automation on clinical trials to start rebuilding patient confidence. Partnering with analytics and marketing experts is now an essential step in trial planning that will soon become standard practice - even for smaller companies or independent researchers.


On average, worldwide, around 86% of clinical trials fail to meet clinical recruitment targets - and this was estimated before the impact of the pandemic! To add to injury, this particular issue is not just subject-specific - it’s actually industry-wide. It’s estimated by a report for the National Cancer Institute that one fifth of all cancer clinical trials fail due to recruitment-related issues. Similar numbers were, unfortunately, found in dementia research, with Alzheimer’s Research UK finding only 5.3% of the 451, 561 people formally diagnosed with dementia in England took part in a clinical trial from 2015-16. It’s clear that current patient recruitment and retention metrics aren’t working today, and so it’s not hard to see why digital recruitment is a viable alternative.


The fact is that digital recruitment appeals to some of the core elements of today’s society - and not solely to research enthusiasts, as previous methods have relied on for success. According to data gathered in April 2020, there are approximately 4.57 billion people now online, with the recent rise of ‘big data’ emerging from the healthcare industry meaning that trials may need to seriously consider this growth in usership (for more information on ‘big data’, check out our guide to the topic here). Ultimately, this means that how we understand patients’ wants and needs has fundamentally changed over the course of just a few years; and so the old days of paper surveys and postal questionnaires are practically behind us.



Here at Citruslabs, we've created the ideal patient recruitment dashboard to help any researcher 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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