• Joanna Thomson

Patient recruitment: what a £7 million investment could mean for the industry long-term

Late last week, the UK government announced their plans to launch 5 new regional patient recruitment centres with an investment of £7 million. Managed by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the new centres aim to increase opportunities for patients to access treatments against COVID-19 amid the current pandemic, as well for studies across all other healthcare specialties. With a focus on “safer” late-stage clinical trials, the opportunities these centres could offer research areas both big and small, from Alzheimer’s studies through to research on depression, are potentially game-changing.


Here at Citruslabs, we lay out our own roadmap of what this latest update could mean for the industry going forward; and consider the three main aims that every CRO and research study everywhere should now seriously consider implementing.


Wider patient awareness


In theory, step one is a given. It’s basic economics that increased government spending decreases levels of inequality. We all commonly associate this inequality with social and monetary poverty, but it doesn’t stop here as government funding tackles inequality of opportunity also. The new centres will be based in NHS Trusts in Blackpool, Bradford, Exeter, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Leicester - all chosen as these populations may not have previously been able to access the latest clinical trials. Therefore, we should see a rise in awareness of clinical trials, particularly in these areas, over the coming years as the arrival of a local hub should start to positively impact perception on trials.


Of course, the centres will not tackle the issue as a whole, considering that a recent survey by Clinical Leader found high levels of stigma surrounding the topic of medical research - with two-thirds of respondents not knowing who clinical trials are targeted at. We still have a long way to go, but this is a step in the right direction.


Participation rates increase


It must be said that awareness is only effective when there is also accessibility; and for participation rates to rise, there must be harmony between the two. A lack of accessibility has always been an issue area for research, with around 86% of clinical trials unable to make recruitment targets each year; and, in recent months, this issue has, unfortunately, proved a far more challenging obstacle to get over.


Right now, one-third of clinical trial sites fear total closure, with 77% of these sites indicating some of their ongoing trials are feeling the impact of the pandemic. Stay-at-home orders and patient concerns over interacting with healthcare professionals top the reasons for patient dropout, with 80% of sites reporting an unwillingness by patients to visit their research site. What is particularly worrying about these statistics is, to top it all off, only 19% of sites believe patients would permit home visits by clinical trial staff.


Post-lockdown recruitment is undoubtedly going to be perhaps one of the greatest challenges the industry has ever faced, with efforts now going into not only raising awareness but regaining lost trust. Thankfully, the government’s research centres/outlets should play a significant role in tackling this issue in the UK. With more geographical locations for patients to access and associate with medical research, we should see, in theory, a boost for patient confidence levels in visiting research sites.


Small lifestyle changes


The final stage is perhaps more of a Utopian fantasy for many today as it was never thought possible in the past. It all starts with researchers making connections with patients in ways that situate the importance of medical research out of the lab and into the home. The easiest and most efficient way of doing so is through virtual technologies.


Researchers need to advertise their studies in ways that appeal to the general public. Their methods have to feel fresh yet relevant to everyday life. Make sure to market your study online; mobile advertising is fast becoming the most popular way to sell products/services. Social media is also an ideal platform for raising awareness. It’s estimated that 2.56 billion people are on social media worldwide, so making a profile on Facebook or Twitter ts your study among the masses. To find out more about the power of social media and its results on patient recruitment and engagement, check out our previous article available here.


If we can make research more relevant to the everyday then it will soon become the everyday. Research carried out by Accenture suggests that healthcare consumers are linked to a strong use of digital technology, with numbers on the increase every year. With technology now being seriously considered by government bodies as a means of treating current patients, there is now promising evidence - and the right backing - for technology to recruit and treat future patients. This is where health apps, like our own Mindmate app, come in.


At Citruslabs, we are dedicated to keeping you up-to-date on the latest clinical trial news and developments. As a company we have a wealth of experience in the field; with the success of our #1 health app, Mindmate, in 17 countries and a trial database with over 3 million patients on record. Not only this, we are proud to offer all COVID-19 clinical trials free access to our patient-recruitment dashboard.

  • Interested in finding out more? Speak to a member of our staff today here, and check out our archives for all our tips and tricks on running a clinical trial in today's industry.

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