November 15th, 2017

Bringing Your Clinical Trial Recruitment Strategy Into the Digital Age


Learn how to lower clinical trial recruitment costs and speed up enrollment timelines with digital advertising.

If you’re reading this, chances are that your clinical trial is spending too much on patient recruitment. You’re not alone – a recent Pharmafocus study revealed that as much as 27% of a clinical trial’s total costs can be attributed to the patient recruitment process. Even more alarming, as these costs continue to skyrocket, outcomes are getting worse. According to PharmaVOICE, only about one in 20 patients end up providing publishable results. Unsurprisingly, approximately 75% of clinical trials fail to meet recruitment deadlines.

In light of shifting consumer habits in recent years, traditional methods like print, TV, and radio have become increasingly ineffective for patient recruitment. Unless the clinical trial industry begins to recognize the value of digital media – e.g., its massive audience, powerful targeting capabilities, and flexibility – and adapts its approach, we’re not going to see these rising R&D costs change direction anytime soon.

Social Media

With the right strategy, social media can become a powerful tool for recruiting patients for clinical trials. When you recruit via social media, audience size and targeting should be your top priority. Therefore, we recommend Facebook ads. With more than two billion monthly active users, Facebook has the largest audience of any existing media channel and, in some cases, represents up to 100% of a given patient population.

Facebook has also evolved into a thriving hub of online patient communities. The site is now home to more than six million health-related pages and groups where patients, families, and caregivers can gather information and give advice. More importantly, users keep coming back to these networks; a recent Health Union survey found that more than 50% of patients with chronic conditions use social media for health-related purposes every month. Patients clearly trust social media communities for health advice, and clinical trials can and should use that trust to connect with potential participants.

Search Engine Advertising

Targeted search ads should be a cornerstone of any digital marketing program. Where social media ads allow clinical trials to reach prospective participants based on demographic information, search ads offer the advantage of being able to correlate targeting with user intent.

Keyword targeting enables you to reach patients with specific messaging based on where they are in their path to treatment. For example, a newly diagnosed patient who is searching for general information or support would likely enter broader queries like “thyroid nodule” or “hypothyroidism.” On the other hand, a patient who is nearing the decision-making stage – and therefore more likely to convert – would likely enter a more specific query, such as “thyroid cancer treatment” or “thyroid specialist near me.” By understanding where these patients are in their path to treatment, you can tailor your messaging (and your ad spend) to boost recruitment outcomes while keeping costs at a minimum.

As we move deeper and deeper into the digital healthcare age, patients are becoming increasingly reliant on the internet and internet-connected devices to conduct research, evaluate treatment options, and make their own decisions. The good news is that this trend of patient empowerment actually plays to the clinical trial industry’s advantage – digital media’s degree of flexibility, array of targeting options, and performance monitoring tools help sponsors and CROs manage recruitment campaigns more cost-effectively, minimizing overhead and maximizing results.