patient recruitment
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Patient recruitment – how to get (and keep) participants

by | May 23, 2023

Finding and enrolling patients can be one of the most challenging aspects of setting up a trial – and even if you reach your recruitment goals, you face the task of retaining those participants for months, years or even decades. But participants are at the heart of every trial, so how can you master recruitment and retention?

People are at the core of every clinical trial, and they’re also who benefit when a trial succeeds. But when recruitment stalls or goes wrong, the trial can be derailed. According to research, more than half of trials terminated (55%) ended because of low recruitment. Even if you do reach the required number of participants, if it took longer than expected, the trial could be delayed, or additional sites may be needed – that’s the case for 80% of trials.

To avoid issues like these, it’s worth focusing on recruitment from the moment you begin planning your trial. Here we share some of the most effective approaches we have used for recruiting and retaining the participants you need.

Reach the right people where they are

It may feel overwhelming when you begin, especially if your potential participant pool is very big (or very small). Where do you start? First, consider the eligibility criteria and imagine your ideal participant. Think beyond what they look like on paper and build up a picture of them as people. What do they like to do? Where do they go? What do they read or watch? And who do they spend time with?

The best way to reach the people you need is to go where they are. With a clearer picture, you can put together a plan that might include advertising in relevant magazines and on useful websites, talking to patient groups and messaging on social media sites.

Make it personal

Once you’ve identified the people you want to connect with, make sure your communication with them is personal; you’re connecting with another person, not just a participant number. Use their name, use the channels they prefer if possible, and try to talk directly by phone or in person.

Remember that the people taking part in your trial may be dealing with many issues, including health problems. You could strengthen your connection and build trust with participants by acknowledging this and providing support where needed, for example, through helpful resources and groups.

Communicate clearly and transparently

Ensure all your patient materials are written in plain language so they’re clear and understandable. And be sure to include summaries wherever possible so participants aren’t overwhelmed with information. Outline the risks and benefits and set expectations. If your participants feel informed and understand what’s happening, they are more likely to remain engaged.

This extends throughout the study period and beyond. It’s important to keep participants updated about changes to the trial and to share the results at the end; indeed, trial participants expect to see the outcome of the research they were involved in.

Make participation worthwhile

While supporting the development of a new treatment may be reason enough for some people to participate in a clinical trial, incentives can help make it even more worthwhile. Consider whether to offer compensation for participation.

Make sure you avoid inconveniences like rigid scheduling and sites that are difficult to access. Instead, try to locate your trial where your target participants are. If that’s not possible, consider offering reimbursement for travel or access to transport. And remember to weave in telehealth if it fits your study – remote visits can be more convenient for participants.

The more we keep patients at the heart of clinical research, the more likely it is to succeed.

What are you doing to attract, support and retain your trial participants? Siron Clinical can help – contact us to discuss your needs.


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