March 28th, 2018

Minority Patients Underrepresented in Clinical Trials – But They Want to Participate


Effective clinical trials rely on diverse patient populations. So why are minority participants consistently underrepresented?

Even as clinical trials look to increase patient enrollment and retention, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic minorities continue to be underrepresented in patient populations. According to a study scheduled to be presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in April, minority groups want to participate in clinical trials. However, roadblocks ranging from a lack of familiarity with clinical trial terminology to overburdened healthcare providers are standing in the way of representation.

Thankfully, effective digital marketing has the potential to boost enrollment among minority patients. Not only would this create better clinical trials with more widely applicable medical insights, but it would open potentially life-saving treatments to populations who have previously lacked access to them.

Exploring Systemic Disadvantages to Minority Enrollment

According to Terry C. Davis, the researcher at the helm of the study, fewer than 5% of cancer patients are currently enrolled in clinical trials, and fewer than 10% of those patients are minorities. To explore this disconnect, Davis and her colleagues led 14 focus groups and seven one-on-one interviews throughout urban and rural communities in Louisiana.

Study participants were predominantly women (85%), black (78%), and of lower socioeconomic status (70%). Among this population, Davis and her peers found that minority patients consistently expressed interest in clinical trials, even if the studies wouldn’t benefit them directly. Cancer patients in particular expressed interest in participating in research that could benefit them.

However, the study revealed several significant barriers to entry for minority patients. Many found traditional industry language intimidating or alienating, preferring straightforward explanations and inclusive language (i.e. “all people are needed for clinical research studies” as opposed to “we need more African-American patients in clinical trials”). This finding reflected a larger observation from the study that minority communities, many of whom have limited exposure to clinical trials, need better information from physicians and providers before getting involved.

Healthcare providers interviewed as part of the study explained that they lacked the bandwidth to make informed recommendations to patients about which trials they may benefit from. They did explain, however, that they would be interested in making such recommendations if they were provided with better literature and talking points about trials.

Understanding How Digital Marketing Can Help

Though clinical trials have made some progress in increasing the minority distribution of patient populations, the work isn’t over yet. It’s imperative that sponsors and CROs leverage digital media to cast the wider, more inclusive net needed to boost minority enrollment. Without sufficiently diverse patient groups, investigator sites won’t be able to gather accurate, representative data on how a drug or device affects the real-world population.

Data-driven search and social media advertising campaigns can help trials reach minority patients as they search for health information online. Facebook provides an especially powerful avenue for this, as trials can set targeting parameters around race, gender, sexuality, and other identifying information. Trials looking to recruit certain minority groups should also move to mobile; studies show that black and Latinx communities use their phones for health information more frequently than other groups.

Though we still have a long way to go, it’s clear that digital marketing will play a valuable role in alleviating minority underrepresentation in clinical trials going forward.