5 Tips For Recruiting (And Retaining) Clinical Trial Participants

Posted by Chad Birt on Feb 3, 2021 9:30:00 AM
Chad Birt

Clinical trials play a critical role in identifying and developing new treatments. They advance medical research, allow for improved patient outcomes, and enhance our knowledge of human biology. Unfortunately, they aren’t always easy to recruit for. In fact, approximately 85% of clinical trials fail to enlist enough participants to move forward.


Considering the amount of time, money, and effort involved in clinical trial planning, it’s important to develop a strategy that encourages patient sign ups and retention. Though that might seem like an insurmountable task, there are a number of things you can do to boost enrollment and participant satisfaction.

1.) Define your ideal trial participant. Before you can successfully recruit trial participants, you need to determine who it is you’re looking for. When developing a recruitment strategy, Pharmavoice recommends asking questions like:

  • Who is the target population for the study? (Ie: Age, race, gender, etc.)
  • Where is the patient population most likely to hear about the study?
  • What types of healthcare providers treat the condition?
  • Are there any community organizations or nonprofits that might be able to assist?

It’s also important to consider how your target audience feels about clinical research. Certain populations are less likely to trust medical professionals and may be leery to enroll in a trial, even if they qualify. 

2.) Develop a marketing strategy. Once you’ve identified a target audience, it’s time to reach out and connect with them. The internet has made this process much easier, but there’s not one single template that’s guaranteed to work. To ensure your messaging connects with potential trial participants, it’s important to research:

  • The websites and social media platforms that your audience uses
  • How your target audience spends their freetime
  • Who your audience trusts
  • Where your audience gets their information (Ie: Newspapers, bulletin boards, or online)

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to develop marketing collateral that resonates with your target demographic. The messaging and illustrations you use are just as important as the study itself. Considering that one in five Americans is unable to read a pamphlet, it’s important to write at an eighth grade reading level. 

In addition, make sure your recruiting materials are age appropriate. For example, if you’re trying to recruit millennials or members of Gen Z, you might want to use targeted social media ads that utilize memes, gifs, and relevant hashtags. If you’re trying to appeal to Baby Boomers, a marketing approach that uses newspaper and radio ads might make more sense. 

Don’t be afraid to collaborate with medical professionals or community organizations either. If you’re researching a new cancer treatment, see if an oncologist might be willing to refer their patients. If there’s an upcoming community health fair, register a booth and recruit participants there. The more willing you are to try different things, the more likely you are to find the necessary candidates.

3.) Make the screening process easy and hassle-free. Finding trial participants is only the first step. Once people begin signing up, you have to screen them to ensure they qualify. Instead of meeting with each candidate one-on-one, consider outsourcing this process. You can partner with a dedicated call center, sign up for an interactive voice response system, or team up with a functional service provider (FSP). Depending on the trial requirements, you might also need to recruit healthcare providers or individuals who are bilingual. 

Try to make the screening process as quick and convenient as possible. Any significant wait times, system crashes, or back-and-forth between recruiters may lead to frustration and ultimately, drop outs.

4.) Consider offering incentives. Participating in a clinical trial requires time and energy. If possible, show candidates that you appreciate their sacrifice by offering reimbursement. Even if you’re unable to provide a direct payment, consider covering their travel costs or awarding a gift card to Starbucks or a local grocery.

Sometimes financial rewards aren’t an option. If that’s the case, make sure to highlight the benefits of participation, such as one-on-one time with experienced medical professionals, learning more about a specific medical condition, or advancing scientific research. 

In addition, try to express your gratitude for each trial participant. You might even want to hand out certificates that illustrate certain milestones. Not only does this show your appreciation, it lets patients know that they’re making progress toward a specific goal. 

5.) Regularly ask for feedback. Running a clinical trial is a lot like running a business, in that it’s critical your participants (Ie: customers) are happy. Throughout the trial process, make sure enrollees have multiple ways to ask questions, bring up concerns, or submit feedback. 

You can build an app or website specifically for this purpose, or you can encourage participants to send an email, make a phone call, or reach out via social media. The goal is to make yourself easily available. The sooner you can respond to issues as they arise, the less likely participants will stop attending checkups or drop out altogether.

These are just a few of the things you can do to recruit and retain clinical trial participants. Is there anything that you’d add to the list? If so, please submit a comment below and let us know. 

If you’re planning a new clinical trial, we can help. At Harbor Clinical, we offer a unique approach to FSP outsourcing. To learn more about how we can meet your full or fractional resourcing needs call (781) 775-0342 or click here to fill out an online contact form. We look forward to collaborating with you!

Topics: clinical trials, patient enrollment, patient recruitment, study start up

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