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  • Joanna Thomson

High patient engagement: what matters most now

An effective patient engagement strategy is never straightforward; and if we have learnt anything from COVID-19, it is that coordinators are going to have a harder time blueprinting their studies. A white paper released in 2018 revealed that patient recruitment models are failing in appeal. While the levels of interest in trial participation was generally high, the survey suggests, significant differences across respondents’ condition and race proves that successful trial recruitment doesn’t rely on a one-size-fits-all approach. So, how are researchers supposed to plan a study, especially in these uncertain times, if their go-to models aren’t attracting a diverse patient group?


Predictably, the answer is not a simple one. It’s evident that research models need to adapt to the singular needs of their patients, making standardised practice difficult - but not impossible. Here at Citruslabs, we’ve gathered a lot of experience in this area over the years with the global success of our Mindmate app and patient recruitment dashboard. From this, we’ve collated some wisdom that is sure to act as a strong foundation to any clinical study.


Invite patients to the table


This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll be surprised how little researchers actually talk - or talk effectively - to potential and existing patients. A survey on patient-research communication, published in the Ochsner Journal, reports that participants felt underwhelmed by interaction with researchers, with most complaints related to issues of communication, not clinical competency. What patients want is to feel included. According to NHS England, it’s thought that around 40% of patients actively desire to be involved in their own treatment. Researchers must reserve a seat at the table for patients, and make sure that they don’t feel like just “meat in the room”.


Making your study more accessible from the get-go is paramount to turning this principle into practice. Broaden your means of communication and your research should appear more trustworthy and relatable to the average person. Print your contact details online and on handouts for local clinics; making sure to include your social media and video call handles. While it's important to uphold professional conduct, don’t get totally hung up on formality. A reserved manner and a strict tone will only alienate patients. Remember: the researcher-patient relationship is like any other bond, two people coming together over a common cause.

Promote the humanitarian


Talking of a common cause, humanitarianism is arguably the heart of all medical research; yet, researchers time and time again fail to fully make use of it when it comes to patient retention. Recent research by the University of Bristol shows that people are more willing to participate in causes that hit close to home. Everyone is a humanitarian in some way or another, so it’s up to researchers to find out and promote principles that speak to level on this basic level.


Striking the right chord with the heart strings is something that adverts for NHS projects and charity work do exceptionally well. Targeted marketing has never been more relevant to society than today, so it’s fortunate that it is the key to clinical trial recruitment and retention. Get your marketing right and watch those recruitment figures fly. In a previous article, we outlined our top tips for successfully creating and promoting your humanitarian cause. Check it out here.


It’s clear that there are underlying issues with current patient engagement strategies, and a lot of them are directly linked to bigger issues with recruitment and retention. How do you expect to engage patients when you’re already failing to appeal in the early recruitment stages? High patient engagement comes from a patient-first approach at the grass roots of study planning.

Think about why the research matters and make sure that others are able to understand your passion. Construct a solid base of understanding that your study can be built on top of and make it strong enough to withstand criticism from skeptical patients. Do all of this and you’ll avoid the faulty mechanics of standardised patient engagement strategies.


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