Patient Recruiting Expert Offers Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Budget
Recruiting patients for a clinical trial can be a long and expensive process, but smart trial sponsors and sites use a mix of traditional and new media in order to maximize their recruiting budget, a veteran patient recruiting consultant said.
Steven Pyffer, senior director of patient outreach at ThreeWire, a Minneapolis-based clinical trial patient recruiting company, offered some tips on getting the most from recruiting budgets during a May 30 WCG webinar: Cutting the Costs of Clinical Trial Recruitment.
Among his tips:
- Radio is scalable, Pyffer said, and can be “intrusive” – i.e., an ad forces itself on to a potential patient’s attention because they’re part of “a captive audience.” Pyffer says that money spent on radio gets the best return when it is focused on targeted stations that are unique or nearly unique to that market — a smooth jazz station or a talk radio station because listeners are likely committed to the niche and are less likely to change channels. The most efficient use of ad buys on radio are promotional spots during the day — preferably morning or evening rush hours — and only during weekdays.
- Television ad buys should focus on local network stations, not cable, Pyffer said. Like radio, it’s intrusive, and the best value ad buys are again during business hours. What’s key to a television ad buy is a website with a simple, memorable URL. In markets where only a single site is running a trial, television is less valuable “because that person might be calling from four hours away,” Pyffer said.
- Newspapers aren’t as scalable as broadcast media and they’re less intrusive, but they’re “definitely part of the mix” when considering a recruiting budget, Pyffer said. The best buys tend to be in commuter papers of the kind handed out at mass transit stations, he said.
- Websites can be valuable, but the landing page and URL should be something that’s easy to recall and be markedly different from a branding name. A trial testing a new glaucoma medicine, for instance, might use the URL myeyecare.com, for instance, Pyffer said.
- Facebook can be effective (although Twitter does not seem to be) but some sponsors are leery of public comments on the site, Pyffer said.
- In any media, it can be important to mention compensation available to patients, Pyffer said. Sponsors can be a little leery of that, too, Pyffer said, but it has proven again and again to be a valuable recruiting tool. The exception is when the compensation on offer is too low; when sponsors are offering a range of compensation depending on patients’ circumstances, recruiters should use phrases such as “up to” the maximum amount in discussing compensation. In February, the FDA attempted to bring some clarity to the issue with updated guidance to institutional review boards and clinical investigators clearly allowing reimbursements to patients in clinical trials for lodging and travel.
Pyffer also had some tips for things to avoid. In considering whether to hire a recruiter, sponsors should steer clear of those who focus on clinical trial “awareness” rather than patients, he said.
“That’s a red flag,” said Pyffer. “Awareness: That means literally nothing to me. The only measure that really counts is enrolled patients. That’s the only thing.”
Any recruiter, he argued, should be able to offer sponsors or sites raw numbers of patients successfully enrolled in trials. They should also be able to offer something like real-time tracking of patients enrolling in a given trial.
Others are a bit more sanguine about the importance of awareness. For example, programs such as PopUp Star, a global competition designed to help grow clinical trials at the grassroots level focus more on awareness. In this program, during a 10-day period in early April, teams competed in Boston, MA; Charleston, SC; Winston-Salem, NC; and Sydney, Australia, to engage more than 1,500 individuals.
Pyffer’s not buying it. He said groups that are selling sponsors or sites on awareness are selling “hocus-pocus.”
“The only thing I want to know about is how many patients were enrolled for whatever protocol,” he says.
Once referrals start coming in, though, it’s essential that they’re being directed to a professional, well-run site, Pyffer said. The best measure is how quickly sites make contact after a referral — first contact should be made within hours, not days, he said.
“If you’re not able to respond to a referral within a day or so, there’s really no reason to invest the money,” he said. “So much time is elapsing and the percentage of the person moving on is a lot less.”
“You have to see if they’re truly engaged,” Pyffer said of sites. “The one advantage we have is that everything is tracked through mypatient.com, so we can see how they’re doing with processing of referrals.”
Steven Pyffer can be reached at email@example.com.