Choosing the Right Investigator Sites is Key to Patient Recruitment


A successful clinical trial begins with choosing the right investigator sites. Here’s what to consider when selecting sites – and how digital marketing can help.

When beginning a clinical trial, patient enrollment is top priority. Low patient enrollment is one of the biggest obstacles to getting a trial off the ground, and almost half of all trials become stalled due to poor enrollment numbers. But trials can set themselves up for success before the enrollment process even begins simply by choosing the right investigator site.

Site selection is one of the most significant factors for creating a successful clinical trial, but it’s often an afterthought in the trial planning process. The site clinicians who recruit, enroll, treat, and evaluate trial patients make up the backbone of a clinical trial – but many sponsors and CROs simply fall back on the most obvious or most popular site options rather than doing due diligence. Here’s why that’s a mistake, and how to find the right investigator sites for each trial:

Recruitment Stems from the Right Sites

There’s a direct connection between choosing the right sites and recruiting the right patients – it’s no coincidence that the two go together. The wrong site can have an outsize negative impact on the success of a clinical trial; a full 23% of sites never enroll a single patient, forcing the trial to deal with delays and increased costs while waiting for patients who never come.

A site staffed with clinicians who understand the protocol design, the target patient demographic, and the study’s characteristics is bound to lead to better results than a site that’s less prepared, as those clinicians will be able to recognize when a patient is a good candidate for a trial. Also, sites who know their existing patients well will already have a leg up in finding patients for a clinical trial; familiarity with their patients and a deep understanding of the trial make a winning combination.

Also, sites that have this type of close relationship with their patients will be able to convince them to participate in a clinical trial more successfully, as their patients are likely already comfortable taking their advice and trusting their judgment.

Finding the Right Investigator Sites

Each study will have different specific needs and will have to adjust their checklist of site demands accordingly, but all trials need to begin by choosing a specific territory and evaluating the potential sites available within that location. Once that list is created, trials should consider their target patient populations and narrow down the list based on what makes sense. For example, a pediatric trial will require different sites than a breast cancer trial.

Once the sites are narrowed down by location and patient type, it’s time to look at the details. Does the site have all of the resources necessary to make the trial successful? Does it have experience with similar trials, and if so, how did it perform during those trials? Do the site staff seem motivated and interested in helping? It’s important to keep in mind that even if a site appears to check all of these boxes, if it’s running too many trials at the same time, yours will never get the attention it needs. Try to find a site that’s experienced but not currently too overwhelmed.

Once trials have selected a site that fits all of their needs, CROs and sponsors shouldn’t leave it entirely up to the site to enroll patients. Any help that they can offer will improve the trial’s success in the long run. Digital marketing is a cost- and time-effective means of recruiting patients at a distance while sites work on identifying and enrolling patients face-to-face.

Search and social ads can be narrowly targeted by location, demographic and search query to identify potential patients at the moment in their healthcare journey when they’re most interested in a clinical trial. The right investigator site and a smart digital strategy can set a trial up for success in a crowded market.

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