As the world looks to clinical research for a solution to the global pandemic, it’s so easy for researchers to get caught up in the romance of humanity-saving cures and Nobel prizes. What is particularly difficult is finding a balance between these dreams and reality. With 86% of clinical trials, right now, failing to meet patient recruitment targets, there is a disconnect between the two concepts that only a complete reevaluation of current patient recruitment and retention strategies can remedy.
Our ultimate blueprint to patient recruitment outlines the four steps of successful patient engagement today. This bite-size guide is guaranteed to help research sites clearly understand the core elements of patient-centricity and how to effectively build and sustain the patient-researcher relationship. So, today, we break down the patient recruitment process and what this means for clinical research recruiters looking to start-up or restart their clinical studies in our changed, post-COVID world.
1. Brainstorm a patient profile
Before you do anything else, research sites must ensure they sit down and consider who it is they are looking to recruit for their clinical trials. Ask yourself the following:
Your answer to the first of these should consist of a fairly in-depth analysis of your area of study; everything from a general overview of your field (what has come before you / what clinical research is currently underway) right down to the molecular structure of the compound/condition/disease you are interested in handling. This seems pretty straightforward, but you will be surprised how many researchers don’t accurately describe their own project! In fact, a study by Offredy and Vickers estimates that more than half of healthcare research proposals get rejected due to reasons concerning a lack of significance, a flaw in methodology, a lack of clear hypothesis and a disregard of research ethics.
For the second, your answer should confront two main factors: age and sex. These are, after all, the factors that commonly influence how a certain individual copes with a substance/condition/disease. After having identified a target patient group, which should be the case for most conditions, research sites must do some background exploration into the lifestyles of this particular group. [Remember: clinical research isn’t just about working in a lab with data all day - it’s a fascinating part of it, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.] At its fundamental core, medical research is about one human being helping improve the life of another - so we must remember the humanity at the heart of it all.
If, however, your research is on a condition that does not primarily (the keyword here) concern itself with a certain age group or gender then it’s important to keep in mind the universality of your cause moving forward.
It's also important to consider whether or not you have the expertise to do this initial mart-research task. That is why we recommend that your project have some form of market research sub-group as part of your initial feasibility planning (check out our advice on this particular topic here). For some, this step will sound like a basic overview of marketing strategy (and it is) - but, for many, this is a key element to research that appears to be hidden in plain sight.
2. Communicate clearly
So, now you understand the value of your research and who you are doing it for, it’s vital that you make sure others can too. Clear and concise communication is actually less common in the clinical research industry than you think - unfortunately, the issue doesn’t begin and end with doctors’ handwriting. According to a recent report published on the US National Library of Medicine website, 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 time for researchers to brush up on their social skills, and the key to mastering communication in clinical trials primarily comes down to adopting a patient-first approach.
Regardless of ambition or drive, research sites must ensure that patients are always at the forefront of their vision, especially when in conversation with potential candidates. A patient-first approach not only emphasizes the humanity of any clinical trial but is also proven to improve patient engagement and retention rates. High-quality relationships are characterized by communication in which researchers minimize the power distance between themselves and their patients; hence, our emphasis on understanding your patients’ everyday wants and needs. It’s all about showing your enthusiasm to engage with the patient in any way you can. Show them that you are interested in them as a person - they are not lab rats after all!
3. Get the word out there
Now you have strengthened the foundations of patient recruitment plan - you know your aims and vision, and you’ve mastered the art of communication - the next step is to consider how you are going get the word out there. How are you going to raise awareness of your trial to begin with? While a lot of the answers are going to come from knowing your audience (again, hence the importance of researching your potential patients), there are some basic elements in appealing to candidates that seem to work consistently.
We have several articles in our archives packed full of resources for marketing your trial to potential patients. Check out those listed below:
4. Upgrade to digital
The first and foremost thing to note here is the rate of change in technology in the last year alone. The recent rise of ‘big data’ emerging from the healthcare industry means that clinical trials of the future might have to employ tech to process their findings (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.
This also means that the traditional ideas of how certain groups in society communicate have now become stereotypes. According to the latest figures produced by Facebook, 62% of online seniors (that is, people 65 or older who regularly use the internet) have a registered profile on the site. This indicates that the older population is now more tech-aware than ever before; and so, patient recruitment - especially for trials concerning this particular age group, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia research - should look to invest in digital marketing technologies to appeal to potential patients.
Similar can be said about patient engagement. If we can now track what potential patients want and need from clinical research, we most certainly can carefully monitor their engagement with a trial underway - something that was a practical impossibility at one time or another. In recent years, advances in technology have meant that patient-reported outcomes can be accurately assessed and any non-compliance can be detected relatively easily.
For research sites running trials over extensive periods of time, it has always been a struggle to avoid non-compliance. Some of the most common issues in this area concern compliance deficiencies in the following: participant safety concerns, clinical protocol deviations, informed consent violations, and failure to maintain adequate case histories. Yet, with the help of digital monitoring apps, these could soon be problems of the past. Data collected from patients through these apps can be carefully organised and monitored for any significant changes that could endanger the patient’s welfare or the integrity of their data during the trial’s run.
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.