October 5th, 2016

Digital Disconnect: Why Won’t Clinical Trials Embrace Online Advertising?


Clinical trial recruiters have been slow to adopt digital advertising best practices, leading to longer enrollment periods and untenably high costs.

At the end of the summer, Industry Standard Research released its Best Practices in Patient Recruitment report, in which they polled sponsors, trial sites, and CROs on a number of key questions related to clinical trial recruitment best practices. One of they questions they asked was: “Currently, what percentage of your patients are recruited directly via the following sources?”

Notably absent from the answer choices was digital advertising. The closest option was “Social Media” – at approximately 7% – which of course leaves out a variety of forward-thinking, digital tactics like search engine marketing, mobile advertising, and patient portal websites. It would seem that the industry is still relying primarily on relatively dated options, such as traditional media advertising (9%), referrals from MDs (17%), and in-house patient databases (47%).

In an age when 43% of consumers cite the internet as their go-to resource for medical information, with Google processing more than 28 billion health-related search queries each year, how is it that digital advertising doesn’t even make the list??

It’s Time for a Change

Of course, maximizing the efficiency of clinical trial recruitment requires a holistic approach – traditional media buys such as TV and radio spots, MD referrals, and patient databases certainly still have a role to play in comprehensive campaigns. However, as more and more patients go online to conduct research and take control of their path to treatment, the overall share of these longstanding tactics within a given recruitment campaign should, in theory, diminish accordingly.

It’s not as though digital advertising for clinical trials is a novel concept – back in 2013, Liz Moench, the then-President and CEO of MediciGlobal, co-authored a piece entitled: “Digital Media and Clinical Trials: A Partnership for Delivering Speed, Cost and Quality,” in which she explained, “digital advertising brings greater specificity and data analytics to connecting with hard to find patient populations than was ever before possible with mainstream media.”

The Consequences

The reluctance of sponsors, CROs, and trial sites to embrace these new, forward-thinking strategies has had a measurable impact – today, 90% of clinical trials struggle to hit their enrollment targets on time, and 27% of U.S. trial sites fail to enroll a single qualified patient. And when you consider that approximately 29% of a clinical trial’s total time and resources go into recruitment/enrollment efforts, it’s not hard to understand how inefficiencies in this area can end up costing approximately $37,000 each day.

Even more alarming, each day a trial’s completion is delayed represents a missed revenue opportunity in the range of $600K-8M+. Considering there are currently more than 4,000 drugs in clinical development, along with 70,000 clinical research opportunities for patients across the country, clinical trial sponsors must recognize these consumer trends and emerging best practices if they wish to remain competitive and profitable going forward.