“Why should I care?”
While it comes across as affrontive, this is a highly realistic and quite a common patient response to clinical trials. For most, the question is only thought and never actually vocalized. So, how are researchers supposed to provide patients with answers if the question is hardly ever asked? Our solution: a little less impressive than mind-reading but equally as effective.
A strong patient engagement strategy is key to not only attracting potential patients but keeping them. Recent research by the University of Oregon strongly links high patient engagement with clinical trial recruitment. And that’s not all; high levels of engagement throughout a study means a win for all. According to an article by HealthAffairs.org, patients who are engaged - that is, have the skills, ability, and willingness to manage their own health and health care - experience better health outcomes at lower costs compared to less engaged patients. Ultimately, a strong patient engagement strategy is paramount to the success of any clinical trial. That’s why, here at Citruslabs, we’ve narrowed down our expertise into three top tips that are sure to take the guesswork out of determining what your patients really want to know.
Make it accessible
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 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 patients and researchers 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 patients' issues. Ultimately, widening accessibility works towards eliminating the stigma surrounding the researcher-patient consultation.
Make it personal
The leviathan of issues for researchers today is the general lack of awareness in society of clinical trials. 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. So, if the average Joe doesn’t know much about clinical trials, how are you ever going to engage them with yours?
It’s important to remember that a lack of awareness is not always a bad thing. As Sun Tzu says: ‘in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.’ It’s up to the researcher to grasp this opportunity with both hands. And this is how to do it: make clinical trials more personable.
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 puts your study among the masses. To find out more about the power of social media and its results on patient engagement, check out our previous article available here.
Make it clear
So, we’ve discussed how to go about talking to potential candidates - but what about the information you communicate to them? What exactly should you tell patients? and in what way do you present this information to them? A simple rule of thumb is this: make sure it’s clear.
Be pragmatic and say it how it is. Research by Pixus shows that people tend to be put off by convolution. Lengthy sentence structures and flowery vocabulary are seen as elitist and not relatable to the ordinary individual. So, when it comes to the ‘how’ of communication, be concise.
Equally, the ‘what’ is just as simple. Make sure people are informed about all details of the study - or at least as much as they can know. Be sure to include the duration, location, time, etc. to ensure patients are confident with the study’s purpose. For legal reasons, it is vital that all risks are put to the candidate upfront; but, remember that it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. A successful risk-communication strategy isn’t about bluntness - it’s about being knowledgeable, and being able to simplify the knowledge in a way that is understandable. Again, be pragmatic and think sensibly. Don’t make potential candidates worry for their health but don’t straight up lie either. Clarity is a tough skill to gain, but it’s one that any researcher should master in order to obtain and maintain high patient engagement.
It’s undeniable that high patient engagement is linked to effective communication. Researchers who put in the extra effort to really listen to the wants of potential patients and the general public should see their study’s popularity rise. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of patient satisfaction and higher patient retention rates. If communication to your patients is accessible, personal and clear, then questions like “Why should I care?” will soon become “How can I get involved?”