February 3rd, 2016

Why Digital Marketing Is Your Best Bet for Recruiting Patients with Rare Conditions for Clinical Trials


Recruiting patients with rare and terminal conditions presents a major challenge for CROs and patient coordinators – but digital marketing techniques can help.

Despite the immense demand for orphan drugs and new treatments for serious diseases, the cost of clinical trials has been steadily rising in recent years. In large part, that’s due to the decreasing effectiveness of traditional recruitment methods for finding qualified applicants – especially among patients with rare and terminal conditions.

Advance Healthcare Network explains how low enrollment regularly handicaps trials, and such delays or cancellations can cost pharmaceutical companies between $600,000 and $8 million per day in lost revenue, according to research conducted by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.medicine-296966_640

Not only are patients with rare conditions few in number and geographically scattered, but more than 50% are children, who are less likely to travel to the actual trial locations or even register in national databases. Unsurprisingly, roughly 30% of orphan drug trials fail due to enrollment issues, according to Clinical Leader.

Although R&D for orphan drugs typically costs less than more generic medications, their clinical sample sizes are usually much smaller, making trials more vulnerable to issues of recruitment and retention. Without a clear solution, it will become more and more difficult for drug companies to justify prospective investments in R&D.

Rare Disease Patients: Hard to Find, Harder to Retain

Historically, clinical trial recruiters had to wait until investigator sites had been selected in various locations across the country to begin their campaigns – successful outreach and drawing patients into a common area was never a guarantee. This strategy also relied heavily on local medical practitioners for identifying and referring patients, often under the assumption that their treatment options were otherwise limited.

However, as digital communications and mobile penetration become increasingly ubiquitous, patients are now expecting convenient, highly-personalized care. They have ready access to worldwide treatment options and large support communities, and therefore have little incentive to travel to distant trial sites. In light of this, a growing number of clinical trial technicians are moving ahead with at-home clinical studies, where local nurses report research results to regional labs.

In order to meet trial enrollment requirements, researchers must now tailor their messaging to the specific needs and expectations of patients in the digital age – and they need to do so quickly. While Industry Standard Research (ISR) findings indicate that these so-called “pushed” recruits – or remote patients, not active at the site – only made up 28% of trial participants in 2014, that number is expected to quickly rise, reaching 35% by the end of 2016.

Digital Marketing Literally Puts Your Trial in the Hands of Patients

Until recently, finding qualified patients with rare conditions was essentially like searching for a needle in a haystack. But thanks to the relative ubiquity of the internet today, the process is becoming much easier. Already, 72% of internet users go online to look for health-related information, according to Pew Internet. This, combined with the fact that internet user data has become increasingly accessible in recent years, has made tracking and understanding the online habits of prospective clinical trial participants easier than ever before.google-490567_640

As a result, savvy CROs and patient coordinators are starting to incorporate digital marketing tools into their existing recruitment strategies, not only to boost enrollment numbers, but also to ensure that the leads they generate are as qualified as possible. Indeed, clinical trial recruiters are now able to cast a much wider net, yet maintain a very refined condition- or even drug-based targeting strategy, ensuring the overall investment remains reasonable.

Moreover, targeted Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is helping CROs cater to rare condition patients in specific locations, or in the case of more diffuse, at-home studies, to direct them to high-impact landing pages. Social sharing software is helping recruiters identify relevant online communities in order to encourage word-of-mouth messaging, while simultaneously tracking social success within that particular group.

Finding suitable patients for rare condition clinical trials is anything but easy, so make sure you’re utilizing every tool at your disposal. Incorporating digital solutions into your clinical trial recruitment strategy won’t just maximize the ROI on your overall marketing spend and help protect your bottom line – it will serve as a mechanism for connecting the afflicted with the treatments they need to stay healthy. In other words, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

(Main image credit: Unsplash)