June 19th, 2019

Swipe Right to Enroll in a Clinical Trial: Are Patient Recruitment Apps the Future or a Fad?

clinical trial apps

Mobile apps may provide some benefits to patients looking for clinical trials, but digital marketing remains the gold standard of patient recruitment.

Clinical trial sponsors and CROs often struggle to connect with patients, and as a result, 75% of studies fail to meet recruitment deadlines. For their part, many eligible patients are also unable to find clinical trials that meet their needs. This leads to canceled trials and too many patients who are unable to access potentially life-saving treatment.

New clinical trial apps frame themselves as a solution to these problems. These apps help patients find trials that match their goals and eligibility, allowing users to essentially “swipe right” on the studies in which they’re interested. Unfortunately, while mobile recruitment apps offer many potential benefits, they haven’t yet caught up with data privacy regulations.

Here’s what sponsors and CROs need to know about the latest developments in clinical trial recruitment, including innovative apps and digital marketing strategies that may offer a more effective alternative.

What Do Clinical Trial Apps Mean for Patient Recruitment?

Recruiting patients for oncology trials can be especially difficult, and mobile apps claim to streamline this process. For instance, the Cleveland Clinic’s cancer trial app provides users with information on relevant trials organized by categories like disease, physician, and location. It also outlines eligibility rules and the objectives of each trial.

Other apps mine data from electronic health records to match patients with clinical trials. Some provide helpful details like how far testing sites are located from patients’ homes, whether trial participation is paid, and the time commitment required for participation.

Despite their innovative approach, these apps face complex legal concerns regarding privacy and data protection. According to Baylor College of Medicine ethics scholar Dr. Stephanie Morain, “While apps offer potential, they also present new challenges. Given that many of the app developers may not have a healthcare or medical background, they may not be familiar with important ethical standards for research. We really need to think about effective ways to ensure ethical standards are preserved in this new space.”

Dr. Morain and others in the medical ethics field are advocating for transparency in terms of what these apps are doing with users’ information. It’s important that these apps clearly communicate their goals and privacy protections to patients who might not realize they have consented to the collection and usage of their data.

Digital Marketing Remains a Valuable Recruitment Tool

While mobile apps may improve the process of finding relevant clinical trials, many of them are not yet suited to widespread adoption. Instead, sponsors and CROs should consider investing in highly targeted, results-driven digital marketing techniques. These strategies allow trials to engage patients on the platforms they already use every day, such as Facebook and Google.

Facebook now has over two billion users who span nearly all regions and demographics. Its advertising platform can be used to effectively target potential patients based on factors like age, gender, location, and interests.

Pay-per-click advertising is another powerful option, as it targets users based on their search intent. For instance, if a user searches for “cardiac surgeon San Diego,” relevant results will be shown at the top of their Search Engine Results Pages. Marketers only have to pay once a user has actually clicked on their ad, and sponsors and CROs can use keywords and geolocation to further narrow their targeted demographics.

These tried and true strategies are the bedrock of any effective clinical trial patient recruitment campaign. While sponsors and CROs should continue to stay up-to-date on the latest innovations in recruitment apps and other tools, digital marketing remains the most reliable way to reach diverse patient groups and boost trial enrollment.