• Joanna Thomson

4 patient recruitment mistakes hindering your research

As several states across the US start to open up again, and with the UK following suit in a matter of weeks, now is the time for researchers to make their final adjustments to their patient recruitment plans. Yet, for many, this may not be a possibility as great uncertainty over the last few months has drawn a shadow over a number of the staple models previously employed. The fact is that the industry-level issues have not gone away; in fact, they are perhaps worse. On average 86% of clinical trials still fail to meet their recruitment targets, and for researchers everywhere, the odds are against them by using hospital or physician databases too. It’s unlikely you’ll find candidates when 48% of sites under-enroll, with 15-20% of sites failing to enroll a single patient.


Today, we take a look at the most common patient recruitment mistakes so frequently overlooked that, sadly, they are practically undetectable in standard metrics. We recommend that trial operators use our points as a sort of checklist, as by hitting the mark on each of these key areas researchers are bound to better understand their aims and goals. This, in turn, ultimately helps researchers communicate their wants and needs to the patient in a way that is not only effective but engaging.


1. Marketing mismanagement


Perhaps the biggest mistake made by researchers everywhere is overworking themselves. Of course, it is totally understandable that you want to do all the work - it’s your project, your ideas, your labour of love after all. However, your parents weren’t kidding you when they told you that ‘sharing is caring’.


It’s absolutely essential that researchers form connections with like-minded individuals in order to break down the work and lighten the burden of their workload. This is also why researchers, from the get-go, should start work on a feasibility analysis: a risk assessment covering all areas of a clinical study from finance through to operations. It’s all about knowing what you can realistically achieve, and by having a plan and a team you can ground your ideas in solid evidence and not abstract dreams.


Maintaining the seemingly incalculable balance between the achievable and the ideal is a difficult feat when planning your research - but it's not all down to luck! Our top tip for making feasibility calculable is to establish subgroups within your research team. Again, break the work down into manageable loads. Have one team work on the clinical operations (including managing the protocol and ethical considerations), another on the medical affairs (including working out the scientific logistics and carrying out the study), and another on the commercial elements (including finance, marketing, and wider administration). Having all the bases covered - and clear communication between these bases - is key to understanding the aims and limitations of your research.


A lot of the time, researchers are quick to think that they can be both Doc Brown and Don Draper simultaneously. Manage your marketing properly and set up a specialist team, and know your feasibilities. Remember: a miscalculated or incomplete analysis is bound to cause trouble when moving the research from theory to practice.


2. Relationship problems


There’s been a lot of surveys produced over the last few years that all reveal the same, one thing: researchers regularly overestimate their communication skills. Tongue et al. found that 75% of the orthopedic surgeons surveyed believed that they communicated satisfactorily with their patients, yet only 21% of the patients reported satisfactory communication with their doctors. It’s evident that patients want more from their health professionals, and it’s up to research coordinators to ensure their demands are met.


So, if standard methods of doctor-patient communication aren’t enough, what are our alternatives? To answer this, we need to consider what patients want from their consultation that isn’t currently being delivered by their doctor.


  • Is it that they weren’t getting a clear enough explanation of medical jargon?

  • What about the time restrictions on consultations?

  • Or, maybe patients don’t feel that they’re able to speak freely due to face-to-face social etiquette?


If it’s any of the above, then it’s time to redefine your study’s accessibility. Adding alternative methods of contact between patient and researcher will surely do the trick. Let potential candidates and current patients know that you are open to telephone interviews and email correspondence. For those in the UK, applications such as MyGP are now available to eliminate the backlog of appointment requests and provide a less daunting method for patients to disclose their concerns. More options for communication means more time for researchers to form considered and helpful responses to patient issues.


A patient-first approach not only emphasizes the humanity of any clinical trial but is actually proven to improve patient recruitment rates. Ultimately, widening accessibility works towards eliminating the stigma surrounding the researcher-patient consultation and medical research as a whole.


3. Technophobia


Today, raising public awareness of clinical research has never been easier. Yet, researchers reliant on traditional metrics are resisting the benefits for the sake of sticking to a known method. This doesn’t make sense when you consider the following:


Why spend around 10% of your gross revenue a year on posters for your local shop, when you could spend next to nothing making digital posters for the online marketplace? Monetary savings are not the only gain: an ODM Group study found that 74% of consumers rely on social networks to help with their purchasing decisions. Social media is ripe with affordable influence, waiting for research coordinators to reap the benefits.


Just like a strongly branded website, an enthusiastic social media presence acts as a landing point for potential patients to get to know what you’re all about. Profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn are essential to building the trust of your audience. The most engaging accounts are those that are most personable: make sure to reference the everyday when posting, and don’t forget to spread positivity whenever you can (nobody likes bad news).


Our top tips:


  • Lost in translation. Consider your words carefully as something that makes perfect sense in your head may not translate on (digital) paper. Also, remember to check for typos in posts by running them through a spell-check. Nothing is worse than seeing someone make an unironic spelling error.

  • Keep creating content. While you should aim to produce quality over quantity, it’s easy for a profile to get lost among the millions of others on people’s feed. Keeping active online promotes a proactive stance on business by letting potential candidates know that you are busy at work.


4. You aren’t the product.


The pandemic has well and truly brought out the humanitarian in us all; so much so that people everywhere are now seriously reconsidering the impact of their everyday lifestyle on their community and society as a whole. As we now reevaluate what is really important in life, it is of the highest importance that researchers do the same in relation to their work. Only by getting to the heart of their study will researchers make potential participants feel the passion of their project.

So, where do you start on this road to self-discovery? You’ll find that the process is actually only a brief detour and not a full-on road trip, as the solution is simple for a reason. All medical research comes down to one major principle: it's all about people doing extraordinary things for others. And that is why you, the researcher, have to, at least in part, be the product you are selling to potential patients.


This sounds quite oxymoronic. Why would you focus on yourself when your research is all about helping others? Instead, you should be looking to position yourself as a provider of humanitarian aid, and to highlight your individual role as part of a wider community. Develop this into a simple narrative that stays with people and you’ll have hit the nail on the head here.


Researchers must then 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.

  • 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 medical 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. And it’s up to the researcher to remind us of our humanity.

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 researchers are connected to a thoroughly educated and engaged pool of participants; so, it is no wonder why we have such high patient confidence! Linked directly with our #1 health app in 17 countries, Mindmate, our patient-recruitment dashboard provides researchers access to our patient database via an easy-to-use interface that is guaranteed to streamline any clinical trial.


  • 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 a successful clinical trial in today's constantly changing industry.

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