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Patient recruitment: our top 4 methods for 2020

Right now, there is still a lot of uncertainty over the state of patient confidence in health-research. While hospitals across the US and UK are reporting an increase in patient confidence, similar can not be said for research facilities. It was only a matter of months ago that Continuum Clinical’s ongoing study into COVID-19’s impact on trials showed that 81% of European sites surveyed had indicated already-enrolled patients were “much less or somewhat less likely” to continue participating in trials. It is equally important to remember that, on average, around 86% of clinical trials worldwide do not meet their recruitment targets, with 15-20% of sites failing to recruit a single patient. Therefore, it is now vital that the industry reevaluate current trial recruitment methodologies to change the norm and provide some certainty.

Starting with the most traditional approaches and ending with industry-leading methodologies, our breakdown aims to increase patient recruitment rates - and even save research sites some time and money along the way. As a side note, we also strongly recommend coordinators implement all or a combination of these methods to boost patient engagement and trial awareness to their fullest potential. Check out our breakdown below for more information.

1. Doctors’ surgeries / clinics

While we would recommend researchers use more advanced methods of recruitment, there still are some advantages to being a bit traditional. Over the last two years, the number of patients visiting doctors’ surgeries has risen by a third, an NHS report reveals; meaning that clinics are now busier than ever. Though this isn’t necessarily good news for overworked doctors, it may be beneficial for research sites in need of patients. By advertising at clinics and redistributing the patient’s attention to long-term research, it is thought that clinical trials may be able to help alleviate this burden felt by the health service.

The NHS Constitution makes clear that clinical research is a core function of the NHS, meaning that clinics are obliged by their code of ethics to support local research. Get in touch with your local clinics directly and arrange a meeting with the management team. Make sure you have your research plan and feasibility analysis prepared (check out our advice on this particular topic here). Most practices are willing to help out if you are willing to put in the extra effort at the beginning of the process.

Our top tip:

In the UK, the National Institute for Health Research runs a scheme that looks to support clinical studies across the country. Interested in finding out more? Get in touch with them here.

2. Patient-advocacy groups

Most areas of research will have a patient-advocacy group (PAG), in which candidates can voice their wants and needs or any fears and concerns surrounding the industry. Supplying patients with material resources and emotional support, these groups have become almost like trade unions for your potential patients. The relationship between research sites and PAGs is, on the whole, mutually beneficial: research has a channel in which to recruit and patients have a voice and often benefit from healthcare provisions provided by the company.

PAGs provide an initial point of contact for patients to trials, making it an ideal mode of trial recruitment for researchers on a budget. President and CEO of VOZ Advisors, Ellen Coleman, explained in an interview with ANJU, that PAGs are also essential to early market access. Allowing patients early engagement with the product allows companies to develop a drug that is needed by the patient and is able to bring about their ideal health outcomes.

Our top tip:

Always make sure to contact PAG representatives yourself; groups want to be taken seriously and so having the recruitment operator make the first point of contact shows you mean business.

3. Digital marketing platforms

For most people, in our digital age, the first encounter they’ll have with your study is through the company website. And if it doesn't impress, there's little chance they'll say yes to anything you have to offer. A recent survey for found that a whopping 75% of people judge a company's credibility based on their website design. Website designers are expensive and this creates a dilemma for researchers with limited capital. So, how are you supposed to create an entire, polished website with little expense and no experience?

Well, it turns out you don’t need an arts degree to be creative these days. Website builders such as Wix and Wordpress offer professional templates on an easy-to-use interface. Simply drag and drop items on the page: no need to worry about code. If that wasn't easy enough, both companies allow access to the majority of their designs and widgets for free - with premium prices at discounted rates from time to time.

Remember the following:

  • Signpost your contact information. It's best to have multiple methods of contact for those among your targeted audience who are cautious of technology. Be sure to list your office’s name, address, and phone number on both your homepage and an easy-to-read contact page.

  • First come, last served. Don't go for the first design you see - think about all the other time-stretched designers that will copy and paste the same one. Look for an alternative design that could be slightly altered to fit your image. This way you avoid cliché templates while giving the design a unique twist.

  • Be mobile-friendly. While you might have an awesome design on your laptop screen, it’s crucial to remember that a lot of your audience will be clicking your link on a mobile - not a desktop. The formatting is almost always completely different so watch out for funny layouts that can occur.

Just like a strongly branded website, an enthusiastic social media presence also 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 tip:

Check out these articles from our archives for more advice on marketing your clinical trial for the digital age.

4. Patient recruitment companies

For many, hiring clinical recruitment specialists seems impossible; and most of the time, let’s face it, this impossibility comes down to monetary reasons. However, what many fail to remember is that time is money, and the key thing that PRCs will certainly save you is time. According to a study by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development (CSDD), time is a necessity for research sites right now as recruitment rates seem to be on the rise but retention rates are failing to keep up. The study states that, of the trials carried out by four of the top-20 biopharma companies and one CRO involved, actual enrollment exceeded planned enrollment in 2019 by 113%; yet, sadly, this was only a temporary victory as the same trials reported dropout rate rising to 19.1% - up from 15.3% reported in 2012. This worrying trend, in turn, suggests that researchers should now be investing more of their own time in keeping patients happy.

The issue with this is that it is too simplistic to suggest that researchers can easily juggle recruitment and retention on their own. Given the current climate, it may be wise for research operators to invest in more secure and reliable methods of trial recruitment - sparing them vital time to plan and implement patient-centric care metrics. This is, of course, where patient recruitment companies come in.

Not that we are biased, but if we were to recommend any one company for the job it would have to be Citruslabs. Linked to our #1 health app in 17 countries, Mindmate, our patient-recruitment dashboard directly connects researchers to over 3 million registered patients. Now, we would say that other models are available - but this would be a lie. In fact, our easy-to-use dashboard is the first-of-its-kind for the market; offering research sites a unique insight into patients’ wants and needs via industry-leading technology. The future of patient recruitment starts here.

Still a little unsure? Check out what our customers have to say about us here.

  • Want to find out more? Get in touch with us here, or check out our archives for all our top tips and tricks on how to adapt your study for today's ever-changing industry.


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