September 6th, 2016

Empowered Patients Demand Better Engagement from Clinical Trials


As healthcare consumers take more control of their path to treatment, pharma companies need step up their level of engagement if they want to remain competitive.

As digital technologies continue to shift patient and caregiver expectations, life sciences companies are attempting to ramp up their level of engagement accordingly – wearable health monitors, telehealth services, online patient portals, and mobile wellness apps are popping up left and right in an attempt to cater to healthcare consumers in the digital age. However, some key areas are being overlooked, especially when it comes to clinical trial education, outreach, and patient recruitment.

Most pharmaceutical companies rely heavily on a relatively outdated approach to clinical trial recruitment; traditional, mass media marketing campaigns are largely impersonal and indirect – not exactly well-suited for the new, consumer-centric digital environment. As the balance of power increasingly tilts towards the patient, trial sponsors need to break away from this blanket approach and seek out opportunities to establish direct, personal relationships with potential trial participants. Either that, or risk losing out to emerging competitors more willing to embrace these consumer trends.

What Makes Clinical Trials Unique?

In a recent article published by Deloitte University Press, the authors make an important point: clinical trials have a set of unique considerations that marketers must take into account when crafting a recruitment campaign.

Imagine being diagnosed with a life-changing, chronic illness – whether a patient is completely unfamiliar with their given condition, or has gained a basic awareness from TV commercials and/or personal acquaintances, the experience is overwhelming to say the least. While they’ll likely receive some basic information from their physician, chances are they have no idea where to begin or what questions to even ask. More importantly, they may not even be aware of the fact that clinical trials are a viable treatment option.

In the past, pharma companies weren’t necessarily trusted, go-to resources for patients in need of information or support – however, the internet’s growing role in the path to treatment has presented an opportunity for trial sponsors to effectively serve as that source of information and support by helping newly diagnosed patients navigate the often complex and emotionally charged process of learning about their condition and seeking care.

Here are two key areas that clinical trial sponsors should focus on in order to boost their overall level of patient engagement and improve enrollment outcomes:

Patient Education

In the age of the empowered patient, education is the key differentiator between your trial and your competitor’s. As mentioned earlier, today’s patients are taking control of their path to treatment and making their own decisions, so establishing a comprehensive and informative digital presence is the best way to arm prospective participants with the knowledge and level of trust necessary to get them to commit to your trial.

Engaging with patients over social media, building out informative and intuitive trial websites, and blogging regularly about trial- and condition-related information won’t just help you connect with your target audience – it can educate them and alleviate any fear or reservations they might have about trial participation.

Digital Advertising Works

Even the best patient education programs will fall flat if nobody knows they exist – digital advertising is one of the best ways to ensure your resources and information get in front of your target demographic while boosting your visibility online. By investing in pay-per-click and social media advertising campaigns, sponsors can ensure that their content is visible to the patients they want to reach.

More importantly, advanced keyword targeting via platforms like Google AdWords enables clinical trial recruiters to effectively identify at which stage of the patient journey a prospective trial participant might be, and shift the messaging accordingly.

For example, if a newly-diagnosed patient is online in search of introductory information or community support, a call-to-action (CTA) asking them to sign up for a clinical trial may be viewed as intrusive and unwelcome. However, if a patient’s keyword phrase is treatment- or therapy-driven, your CTA becomes an actionable resource, generating more qualified patient leads at a much lower cost-per-click.