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Making the most of media outreach

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Pulse on Patient Recruitment by Ashley Tointon

Due to the proliferation of clinical research studies and shortened timelines for recruitment, more studies depend on outreach activities to fill the gap between the number of participants needed in a research study and the number of participants a site can recruit within their own network. Media outreach is a ubiquitous tactic occasionally deployed to fill this gap, but it is often met with mixed results. 

There are many types of media outreach that can be positioned and delivered to meet the needs of particular targeted demographics, including radio, television, print and online. Determining what outreach tactic will work best for a particular segment of the population relies heavily on market research, past experience, study timeline and budget.

Once you have determined that outreach will be needed and you have justification for what type of outreach you are going to launch, you may feel you have done your due diligence. While you may be off to a good start, without assessing your sites’ readiness for outreach, you may be embarking on an outreach campaign without a critical element: stakeholder buy-in. The stakeholder in this case would be the site. Some sites do not want to participate; others want to participate, but are not equipped to be successful recipients of outreach campaign referrals. 

Assessing a sites’ readiness for an outreach campaign is crucial to the success of a campaign. There are a few broad categories you should examine when addressing a site’s readiness to receive referrals. These categories include logistics, operational performance and media performance.

When assessing a site’s readiness to receive media referrals, logistics play a large role. First, obtain a site list and ensure you have all the site contact information. A physical location and the mailing address may both be required. The mailing address can be used to ship patient recruitment materials, but the actual physical address determines the media market. Note the media markets in order to determine what media options have historically performed well in other outreach situations. You can also overlay the site locations with prevalence data that may reveal areas that have higher disease prevalence. Once you have the site list, you need to contact all the sites to determine which sites are willing to participate. Some do not want outside referrals, and no time or media budget should be wasted by sending referrals to a site that is not willing to contact and screen potential study participants. If this step is not completed, it will wreak havoc on your cost-per-randomized-patient metric at the end of the campaign. 

Second, assess a site’s operational performance. It is not enough that a site is willing to participate. Looking at how a site actually performs is a better indicator of how they will handle an outside referral. Ranking sites based on recruitment performance to date is one solid way to do this. Take the enrollment data and extrapolate the number of screened and enrolled patients to see each site’s recruitment efforts. Another key measure to assess a site’s operational performance is their communication or responsiveness. CRAs are a great source to get insight as to a sites’ responsiveness. Sites that are good communicators and have a quick response time may be the same sites that follow up on outside referrals in a timely manner. 

Operational performance can initially be assessed to see what sites are worthy of being included in an online campaign, but ongoing media performance assessments should be continuously conducted once outreach begins. This will allow you to understand which sites are consistently following up on referrals and which sites have randomized patients from the referrals. This is crucial to monitor as the campaign runs in order to optimize the media budget post launch. You do not want to continue to funnel viable referrals to sites that are not following up, or sites that are following up but have a low referral-to-randomization rate. 

Focus your outreach efforts on sites in good markets that have screening and enrollment activity, and which are making good on the referrals they are being sent. This ensures that you are being judicious with outreach spending, which leads to the best return on investment possible from the outreach efforts. 


Ashley Tointon has more than 18 years of patient recruitment and project management experience supporting clinical trials and the pharmaceutical industry. Currently she provides recruitment expertise, strategy and leadership as Principal Consultant of Accelerate Clinical Enrollment LLC. Email comments and suggestions to tointon@icloud.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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