Digital Patient Recruitment Strategies in Clinical Trials: A Guide for Smaller Biopharma Companies

Jin Kim
February 29, 2024
min read
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In the rapidly evolving landscape of clinical trials in the technology era, digital recruitment strategies have become a cornerstone for engaging potential participants, especially those in remote areas. However, smaller biopharma companies often lack of in-house social media or marketing expertise and rely on digital recruitment vendors or marketing agencies. Every clinical trial is nuanced depending on the therapeutic area, and it's ultimately up to the sponsor's Clinical Operations team to collaborate with their recruitment vendor to get to data readout in a quick and efficient manner.

The Challenge of Digital Patient Recruitment

While offering the promise of speed and efficiency, online patient recruitment presents a unique set of challenges, particularly for smaller biopharma companies. The process often involves creating and managing a study website, collaborating with online recruitment vendors or marketing firms to drive traffic through social media, and routing referrals of potentially eligible patients to participating research sites. However, smaller biopharma companies are constrained on headcount and financial resources, and they need to make efficient, data-driven decisions to streamline recruitment in clinical studies.

The goal is relatively straightforward: to target the right patient population through targeted outreach via social media ads to visit the study website, fill out a prescreen eligibility questionnaire, consent and pass the screening visit, and enroll in the clinical trial if eligible.

Yet, achieving this is often more difficult because there are so many moving components. Clinical Operations teams need a robust plan to measure and track the efficacy of their recruitment funnel - driving up the number of referrals can be a great start, but you need to ensure they are high quality referrals that are most likely to be eligible, randomize, and complete your study. The most important goal is achieving data readout more quickly with high quality data.

Relying on an Incomplete Picture

One of the most common pitfalls is the lack of a complete picture of the overall recruitment funnel when gauging the efficacy of recruitment efforts. Many Clinical Operations teams resort to creating weekly Excel trackers or depending entirely on reports and dashboards provided by recruitment vendors. While these methods offer a snapshot of progress, they fail to capture the dynamic nature of digital recruitment. A social media ad that was effective yesterday may not produce the same results today. Clinical Operations teams also need to understand whether potential participants from online recruitment initiatives are actually visiting research sites, completing and passing screening visits, and randomizing into clinical studies - this information is often entered by sites into the Electronic Data Capture (EDC), such as Medidata Rave, and Clinical Operations teams need to juxtapose this information with the data from online recruitment initiatives.

Digital strategies evolve rapidly, and a static approach to data tracking can lead to missed opportunities and inefficiencies.

The Need for Full Transparency

Achieving a successful patient recruitment campaign requires full transparency over all components of the recruitment pipeline. It's not just about driving potential participants to the study website; it's about understanding how each step in the funnel contributes to the end goal of participant enrollment and study completion. Without a clear view of the entire process, Clin Ops teams may struggle to identify and eliminate inefficiencies, thereby delaying data readout and compromising the true return on investment (ROI) of their recruitment efforts.

Best Practices for Optimizing Recruitment

To navigate these challenges, there are several best practices that smaller biotech companies can adopt:

Implement Real-Time Data Tracking

Move beyond static Excel trackers and leverage technology that offers real-time insights into your recruitment funnel. Google Analytics is a great starting point to dissect your study website - this is a popular analytics tracking tool often used in study websites to analyze the inbound traffic, track the conversion from website visit to completing prescreen questionnaires, and pinpoint geographic regions that reflect high interest in your clinical trial. This approach enables you to quickly identify and address bottlenecks, ensuring that your strategy remains agile and responsive to changes.

Understand Key Metrics

Develop a deep understanding of the key metrics that indicate success at each stage of the recruitment funnel. From initial ad impressions to final study enrollment, knowing what to measure is crucial for evaluating the effectiveness of your strategies.

  • How many visits to your study websites are you getting from each social media ad? This is also known as the clickthrough rate (CTR). If an ad is receiving less than 1% CTR, you need to be asking your vendor whether to continue the ad or iterate on the messaging. If an ad is getting outstanding CTR, you need to check if those potential participants are actually completing and passing the online prescreen questionnaire form.
  • What is the overall CTR from each social media platform? Instagram tends to have a younger audience under 35, while Facebook leans towards an older audience over 30. Depending on your target patient population, you need to quickly identify and double down on the most effective campaign platform.
  • How much time are people spending on your website? Which pages are people looking at? You need to map out the patient journey on your study website to see how many people are actually submitting the online prescreen questionnaires.
  • How many people are passing the online prescreen questionnaires, and thereby, potentially eligible for your study? Are they in regions where they can travel to one of your participating research sites? If you're finding people who have no chance of visiting one of your research sites, you need to work with your recruitment vendors to target outreach in feasible areas surrounding your research sites. You can limit online patient outreach to a certain radius around each of your research sites as needed, which can be a great tool to limit referrals based on each site's bandwidth for referrals.

Focus on Participant Experience

Ensure that the journey from discovering your study to enrolling is as seamless and user-friendly as possible. A positive experience can significantly increase conversion rates and participant engagement.

  • Is your study website taking forever to load?
  • If most of the visitors to your study website are on mobile, is your study website mobile-friendly? Is the prescreen questionnaire loading properly on mobile?
  • Is your study website properly loading on web browsers that your intended patient population would be using? For studies where elderly populations are involved, they tend to be using Microsoft Edge, the default browser on Windows computers.
  • Is your study website up at all times and easily accessible?

Foster Collaboration

Work closely with your online recruitment vendors and marketing firms to ensure transparency and alignment on your Clinical Operations team's objectives. Regularly review performance data together to make informed adjustments to your strategy. The ultimate responsibility to achieve data readout in an efficient manner falls on the sponsor's Clinical Operations team.

For Clinical Operations teams at biotech companies - your data is your data. Make sure you're maximizing the utility of your data to achieve data readout as quickly as possible. To learn more about best practices specific to your clinical trial, please reach out.

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Jin Kim

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