September 28th, 2017

How Digital Advertising Helps Clinical Trials Recruit Elderly Patients


The clinical trial community still believes that older patients aren’t online – here are some facts and figures to help dispel that myth.

In my experience, one of the biggest misconceptions among clinical trial sponsors and CROs is that older patient demographics aren’t online. As a result, they continue to rely heavily on traditional media for patient recruitment with the assumption that it’s the best way to reach their target audience. However, as tech adoption increases and consumer habits shift, digital marketing has become an increasingly viable and cost-effective way to reach older patients and improve enrollment outcomes. Here’s why.

Yes, Millennials and Gen X Still Dominate Digital Media Consumption…

Unsurprisingly, Millennials are still the most active generation on digital media platforms. 96% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 use the internet, according to Pew Research. Close behind is the 30-49 age group, 93% of whom are internet-connected. So of course these patient demographics are ideal targets for digital recruitment campaigns.

In fact, according to a recent Makovsky report, Millennials are more receptive to online ads from pharmaceutical companies than any other generation (51% of them, versus 36% of Gen Xers), and are also more likely to click the first link in a health-related search (this is critical for PPC campaigns). They’re also 25% more likely to trust pharma-led social media campaigns than those over 66, according to separate Makovsky research.

…But Older Patients Are Online Too!

While younger people are certainly the most digitally active, the argument that Millennials are the only group worth targeting online is no longer valid.

According to eMarketer, 63.7% of Baby Boomers over the age of 66 are active internet users, and that segment is growing rapidly. Already, Pew reports that more than 50% of those aged 50-64 (a 57% increase since 2009) and 77% of those aged 30-49 use social media on a regular basis. By the end of 2017, 51% of consumers over the age of 65 will be active on one or more social media platforms.

While adoption might not be as widespread as it is among Millennials, older generations have a significant online presence and are just as likely (60%) to share content on Facebook, according to AdWeek. In fact, the demographic that spends the most time consuming digital content per week is the Baby Boomer generation. Even more interestingly, these older users are actively relying on the internet to manage their personal healthcare needs. According to Accenture, searching for health-related information is the number one reason that seniors go online: 58% of those 65 and older, and 71% of those 50-64 currently use the internet for exactly this purpose.

Seniors Need to Be Connected with Clinical Research Opportunities

According to Advisory Board, 62% of Baby Boomers currently have at least one chronic health condition related to obesity, while it’s predicted that 60% will have multiple obesity-related complications by 2030. In other words, it’s this patient demographic that will likely have the greatest need for new treatments in the near future – especially in key areas like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

As tech adoption among older patient demographics continues to soar in the coming years, clinical trials will need to expand their marketing approach accordingly. Traditional media and referrals will still play an important role in recruitment, but in the future, enrollment outcomes will largely upon the quality of your digital marketing efforts – regardless of when your target patients were born.