Technology advances in clinical trials are changing how we manage patient recruitment.
While it remains true that many patients come from within sites’ databases, regardless of advances in the use of electronic medical records (EMR), sites rarely meet their enrollment goals on their own. In fact, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, 37% of all sites in a given trial fail to meet their enrollment targets, and more than 10% never enroll a single patient.
More often than not, sites do a great job going through their databases, but it is not normally enough to meet enrollment. Once the database has been exhausted and there still is a gap in recruitment, the need exists to gain additional interest from outside the site environment.
It is this gap that determines the need for direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, and technology plays an important role. DTC advertising increases awareness of clinical trial opportunities and can include anything from print, radio and television advertisements to online ads. Online advertising is well suited to clinical trial recruitment for multiple reasons: it is targeted, more cost effective than traditional advertising and can be implemented fairly quickly. Online advertisements can take many forms— key word searches, social media ads, banner ads, video ads, etc.
While online advertising once was considered a nice-to-have element in a DTC advertising mix, it is becoming more prevalent and is doing very well reaching highly targeted patient populations. Digital media reach all age groups. The Pew Research Center found 71% of U.S. adults between ages 50 and 64—and 58% of adults over age 65—look online for health information.
Search engine optimization (SEO)/key word search is a very effective way to target people on the internet who are actively searching for a particular medical term. It is common for someone diagnosed with a medical condition to go online and search the internet to learn more about it—he or she simply types the condition in the web browser and results are listed. The purchasing of the “search” or “key” words determines the localized ranking of displayed results. The list of results is then chosen and clicked on by the user—more often than not, that web site contains the information requested.
Web sites themselves are not online advertising, but they can serve as the hub to all of the spokes of your online or traditional advertising. It is an unwritten rule that you should have an online presence if you advertise online. For example, a Facebook ad should not direct the user to pick up the phone; he or she should be able to click the ad and be directed to additional content without the disruption of having to change media.
There also is some confusion among many study managers as to what constitutes online advertising. Patient recruitment and retention professionals constantly find themselves explaining that neither a study web site nor an online screener is a form of advertising. Having a great study web site and/or online screener is good for a study, but if no one finds it, it may not be worth your effort. Stumbling across a web site is known as “organic traffic,” and it does not produce results.
SEO is one of the best drivers for online patient recruitment, because it sends interest to your study web site and/or online pre-screener. If you have never tried SEO to drive interest to a clinical trial, a few words of advice before you begin:
According to Cutting Edge Information, nearly a third of the time dedicated to clinical trials is spent on patient recruitment and enrollment. Online recruitment of patients for clinical trials is a wonderful strategy that fills the recruitment gap. With 80% of people on the internet looking for health information, the number of people who can be reached through online advertising for clinical trials is immense.
Ashley Tointon directs patient engagement programs at ePharmaSolutions, combining traditional methods with innovative, data-driven techniques to provide sponsors high-impact, cost-effective recruitment and retention programs. She has more than 18 years of patient recruitment and project management experience supporting clinical trials and the pharmaceutical industry.
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