In June of 2005 the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) released its “Points to Consider about Recruitment and Retention While Preparing a Clinical Research Study.” While many of the points it outlines are still quite valid, some of the suggestions need to be updated, especially in light of the many incredibly effective digital marketing techniques that are available today. Here are some of the NIMH’s original points to consider, along with suggestions on how they can be improved using state-of-the-art marketing methods:
- Community Engagement: The NIMH talked about identifying and engaging different communities as part of clinical trial recruitment. It stressed the importance of establishing relationships and disseminating information. Today these jobs are remarkably easier with the use of content-driven microsites, search engine optimization strategies that aid in the identification of potential participants, and social media networking that allows for the building of a community around a specific idea.
- Benefits to Participation: The NIMH suggested working with communities through focus groups, interviews, and surveys to develop a list of benefits to participating in the clinical trial. Researchers are then advised that this list can be communicated to potential participants. While effective at the time, this process seems somewhat cumbersome now given the ability of online surveys to gather and assess information, and blogs and online videos to quickly disseminate information to wide groups of people.
- Informational Materials: Although NIMH offered to provide templates for different types of informational materials such as letters, newspaper articles, and public service announcements, these methods seem almost quaint in light of modern marketing techniques. With the advent of performance-based online marketing, information can be quickly and cost-effectively disseminated through e-mail and e-newsletter communications. Search engine marketing can serve the function of spreading the word about the clinical trial to targeted demographic groups and driving potential participants to conversion-optimized websites for in-depth information.
- Recruitment Strategies: Although the NIMH briefly lists websites for recruitment, the strategies for driving participants to a site were all old-style media. Clinical trial marketers now have many more avenues to pursue to increase the chances of meeting their recruitment goals.
- Retention Strategies: Communication was stressed as being essential, although the only format mentioned was newsletters. With the opportunity to use blogs, e-mail, e-newsletters, and social media engagement, today’s clinical trial participants can be more connected and engaged than ever before.
It hasn’t been that long since these suggestions were initially published, but a lot has certainly changed since then. Attracting, enrolling and retaining patients in clinical trials are key challenges for many companies. A more proactive approach than just relying on the existing patient volume already within investigators' practices is required. It is incumbent on today’s clinical trial recruiters to inform themselves of all the recruitment and retention tools that are at their disposal today so they can meet the many goals of broad recruitment from a variety of demographic groups, increased participation and retention, and cost reductions.