Enrolling a diverse pool of patients is often a challenge for sponsors and CROs. Fortunately, digital patient outreach can help boost clinical trial recruitment efforts.
A lack of diversity among clinical trial patients hinders progress in drug development and discovery of cutting-edge therapies. Given that minorities make up a significant portion of the overall population, their underrepresentation in clinical trials could call into question the efficacy of approved treatments.
For instance, research presented at the 2019 American Society of Hematology annual meeting found that African Americans with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) have been unnecessarily excluded from AML clinical trials. African American patients with AML are more likely to have evidence of abnormal kidney function than Caucasian patients with the same condition, and therefore many were unable to meet restrictive clinical trial eligibility requirements.
The findings of this study are indicative of the underrepresentation of African Americans in many cancer clinical trials — even forms of cancer that disproportionately affect them. Fortunately, by coupling policy change with concerted digital patient outreach, sponsors and CROs can successfully recruit a more diverse group of clinical trial participants.
How to Build Patient Diversity in Clinical Trials
It’s no secret that most people now use the Internet to search for and access healthcare information. This makes the Internet a prime medium through which sponsors and CROs can connect with patient populations.
No shortage of digital tools are available for this purpose. For instance, sponsors and CROs can use social media advertisements to communicate with potential patients and address their pain points. Facebook alone has over 2 billion users, and many patient communities have established Facebook groups for support, information, and organizing. Several of these groups are even designed specifically for minority patients. For sponsors and CROs, Facebook’s advertising platform offers the opportunity to serve content to members of these groups.
In addition, search advertising is another way to reach diverse patient populations using strategic keywords. Keywords such as “varicose vein treatment near Denver” can identify relevant patients searching for healthcare information and treatments online. Popular search engines include Google, Yahoo, and Bing, all of which enable sponsors and CROs to create ads that appear at the top of users’ search engine results pages (SERPs). These ads typically operate on a pay-per-click basis, which means that sponsors and CROs are only charged when a potential patient clicks on their ads.
Finally, online forums and message boards continue to serve as support systems for many patient communities. Through these platforms, patients can access condition-specific information and find answers to common questions from others with their condition. For their part, sponsors and CROs can post announcements about upcoming clinical trials or run custom-tailored advertisements that are sensitive to patients’ pain points.
Keeping Clinical Trial Patients Engaged
Once you’ve piqued the interests of diverse patients, you need to find ways to get them through the door. The key is to make participation as convenient as possible, especially for those who may not have a lot of extra time or resources to devote to their treatment. Keep in mind that most patients are eager to participate in clinical trials, but are sensitive to obstacles that get in the way of treatment.
For example, sponsors and CROs might consider adopting online pre-screening questionnaires so patients don’t need to come in to determine their eligibility. It’s likewise a good idea to set up call centers so that qualified participants can understand the role of the study and what’s involved before coming in. This makes their experience more enjoyable while saving researchers valuable time.
Lack of diversity in clinical trials can undermine important research and prevent patients from getting the treatments they need. However, by leveraging digital outreach initiatives and putting the patient experience first, sponsors and CROs can help create a long-term solution.