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Digital messaging as a means of accelerating recruitment

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Pulse on Global Trials by Matthew Howes

Sourcing and retaining qualified subjects for clinical trials continues to be one of the biggest challenges researchers face. Nearly 80% of trials fail to meet enrollment timelines. What if we could accelerate recruitment and improve the trial experience through the application of simple and secure digital messaging? 

It’s time for researchers to understand their audience, not just from a clinical point of view, but as people: How they interact, how they consume information, how they complete transactions. We need to engage in ways that meet the expectations and de facto standards of modern communication. We need to engage research volunteers as people first, subjects second.

Why email works

Conventional, paper-based or referral-based recruitment methods are seeing decreasing success rates. Many qualified volunteers never find out about clinical trial opportunities through conventional advertising. The result is a significant impact on the business of clinical research. For example, a target population of young millennials can be difficult to keep in touch with through “snail” mail because they are frequently moving. And even when contact is made, recruiters may wait weeks for a written response by mail. 

Alternatively, a digital address can remain with a person wherever they go as they tend to keep their digital addresses longer than their physical ones. That’s one of the reasons why email communications between patients and physicians has become prevalent worldwide.

Advantages of secure texting

Email has its limitations, too. Studies suggest that 90% of emails are spam, and only 22% of emails are read. By comparison, 98% of text messages are read, and 90% are read within three minutes of receiving one. 

More than four billion people use mobile phones worldwide, which makes it an ideal channel for clinical research organizations to communicate directly with trial participants. With wide adoption across multiple consumer markets, and secure platforms that comply with various regulatory requirements, text messaging technology now is a viable solution for the pharmaceutical industry, particularly within clinical trials.

Most important areas of clinical research

Text messaging technology can be utilized to recruit, locate and screen potential patients. One of the advantages of secure texting is that it addresses the inherent problem relying on volunteers to take the first step. 

With conventional recruitment tactics like letters, the typical response rates range from 5% to 10%. Text messaging, on the other hand, has proven to increase response rates to more than 30%. More importantly, text-based recruitment results are immediate. There is no waiting period of weeks or months to get a response.

For example: A prospective patient sees an ad for a new trial that directs them to register by texting NEW TRIAL to 12345 to receive more details. Once the text is received, interactive communication begins directly with the prospect. Through their phone, they can answer qualifying questions about their age, sex and condition, and can be directed to the nearest recruiting center for further screening.

Beyond recruitment activities, secure texting is demonstrated to have a favorable impact on retention activities, such as sending appointment reminders to improve the likelihood of a patient showing up on time, sending medication reminders and fostering better adherence.

Wearables and clinical trials

The introduction of the Apple Watch reveals a number of ways to connect patients with clinical trials.  The Watch makes it possible for researchers to pre-screen potential patients through a series of short yes or no questions that they could answer with a click on their Watch. They could capitalize on family history and receive and suggest clinical trials based on an individual’s past family statistics (might influence/help other family members), or send a notification alert to a possible and pre-screened patient/caregiver (by area code) whenever an appropriate new trial is announced.  A “medical” version of Siri could deliver instant options on new, relevant trials in their area just by asking the Watch.

The Watch also promises the ability to collect quality-of-life data (through the Apple ResearchKit) through instant surveys that respondents could quickly click through. And imagine the scenario of connecting subjects to pharma-cosmetic companies that are running “vanity trials” in the major vanity areas (New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, etc.). This could be the new and controlled “Botox Party du Jour.”

As personal communication technologies continue to evolve at a rather aggressive pace, the clinical trials industry has an opportunity to make a positive impact on both business objectives and patient needs. Without evolving with technology, however, the industry risks delaying important studies and increasing the cost of clinical research. 


Matthew Howes is senior vice president, marketing innovation for PALIO, an inVentiv Health company. A leader in digital strategy, he has provided the fuel for digital businesses visited by over 100 million people every month. Email matthew.howes@inventivhealth.com.

This article was reprinted from CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »

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