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Improving Clinical Trial Recruitment & Retention

October 2019 | Written by Julia Coleman

The best-designed clinical trial is only as good as the subjects it enrolls… and retains.

Recognizing this fundamental truth led our team to create in-house expertise in subject recruitment and retention, and to build a digital solutions resource center to support these efforts. We understand that patient/subject recruitment delays are the primary reason for study delays, which can be costly and may jeopardize critical regulatory filing deadlines. Our strength in recruitment and retention is one reason it has been so successful over the years in conducting observational studies and clinical trials across a wide range of clinical areas and, often, with hard to reach or challenging populations.

A recent example of our attentiveness to improving recruitment and retention strategies is the evaluation of the Children and Clinical Studies mixed-media campaign. Developed over the past decade in collaboration with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the campaign provides reliable, appropriate information for parents, clinicians, researchers, and adolescents about why research with children is important and what happens during a study.

The campaign was needed because recruiting children for clinical trials presents some unique challenges. For example, parents often lack information about what clinical trials involve, children may have fears about what might happen to them, and misunderstandings may exist from distorted media accounts or historical descriptions of practices long-since outlawed.

The campaign has addressed these challenges with an informative web-based program built by the digital solutions team that covers a range of issues such as safety, “saying no,” and concerns from a minority perspective. After developing the tool, we conducted a qualitative study to learn what parents who used the tool thought about it.

Three themes emerged from the data, which are currently being used to improve recruitment strategies.

First, parents in the evaluation identified most with parents in the program who were similar to themselves (e.g., similar ages, cultural backgrounds, or medical conditions).They reported that hearing from other parents who were like them helped keep them engaged with the content.

Second, parents welcomed a tool about general clinical research information, which helped them understand the “big picture” and allowed them to process study-specific details.

Third, parents needed to better understand the role of healthy child volunteers in research—suggesting that further education is required when a study includes healthy controls. Knowing what resonates with parents and recognizing their concerns improves recruitment and retention by helping participants feel comfortable about the research and engaged with the study team.

This is just one example of a broader efforts. Digital Research Solutions produces materials across the media spectrum, including print, responsive web, portable devices, and social media. Focusing on what is important to the respondent audience rather than on the latest “Gee Whiz” technology contributes to our successful recruitment and retention efforts. Building relationships, staying connected, and understanding our study populations helps us achieve high quality research.

Julia Coleman
Digital Research Solutions Program Manager

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