Best and worst digital campaigns for patient recruitment

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Pulse on Patient Recruitment by Ashley Tointon

Recently, I was asked to discuss aspects of my best and worst digital campaigns for patient recruitment. Having completed so many digital campaigns, it is difficult to discern the best and worst, as they all had different parameters. Looking back retrospectively, distinct markers of good digital planning were determined primarily by two factors—strategy and execution.

Strategy is very important. It is the process of determining the most appropriate course of action. Strategy consists of the actionable activities between the current state (zero enrolled participants) and the desired future state (X number of enrolled participants). When developing patient recruitment strategy, a protocol SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) can prove to be a very helpful exercise for strategic recruitment planning. Digital campaigns may be a part of a larger recruitment plan or it may be the sole recruitment method for a particular study.

It is vital to give the right person the responsibility to devise the strategy. Any great strategist can thrive on instinct, but that person should also have experience and an understanding of real-world metrics. A good strategist is not afraid to take risks, leverage resources from all parts of a company and is well-versed in the art of communications.

If the proper resource is not used, it may lead to poorly conceived planning. The initial strategy for a particular clinical research study may actually come from an instinct or opinion, but to validate the opinion, research must be done on the disease, the epidemiology of the disease, the patient profile and the market to discern what mediums best reach the target audience. This may or may not be a digital medium. Case studies that show results of prior planning should also be sought, as these can showcase both successful tactics and unsuccessful tactics. Even the best strategy can be ruined by sub-par execution.

Execution is even more crucial to a sound strategy. Bad execution can inadvertently cause a great idea look like the wrong idea.

In the ideal scenario, the strategist who comes up with the plan will also be responsible for executing it, but there are some hand-offs from the “planner” to the “implementer.” If the implementer does not agree with the strategy, it will be harder to make it work. Both the strategist and the implementer should have buy-in on the plan and agree on the methods to carry out the plan. There may also be times when the strategy is sound and the implementer is knowledgeable, but the timing or the communication of the plan is wrong.

An example of how this might happen is using a digital strategy in a rescue situation at the end of a study. The strategy to include a digital campaign may be founded, the strategist and implementer may agree and the implementer may be a digital expert, but if sites are unaware and communications about the digital campaign have not been disseminated properly, it could be disastrous to the metrics, which may indicate the given strategy did not work when it could have been easily corrected. A great plan in the hands of someone who is not well-versed in the nuances of digital media can lead to less than positive results.

Looking back at the best and worst digital campaigns, it’s clear to me that buy-in from all stakeholders is a key to success. Although success is measured differently depending on the disease and the campaign, successful digital tactics drive traffic and ultimately track to randomization. Return on investment (ROI) metrics can show the exact cost per randomized patient from each medium, but that is not the only factor in a success story. The most successful campaigns position the digital campaign as an essential element and begin communicating the plan to sites early and send updates frequently. If considering digital recruitment tactics for your next clinical trial, pay careful attention to both the strategy and execution. When both are done well, it will ensure success. 


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. Email or tweet @AshleyTointon.

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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