recruit patients for research

How to Recruit Patients for Research

Patient recruitment is a major challenge for clinical trials and research registries. According to the NIH, 85% of cancer patient are unaware of opportunities to participate in clinical trials, yet 75% would be willing to participate. Clearly there is opportunity to improve how CROs and researchers recruit patients for research.

In one study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of various patient recruitment tactics, which included “standard recruitment methods such as physician referral, newspaper advertisements, fliers, audio and video media (radio and television commercials) as well as relatively new methods not previously extensively reported on such as internet ads, ads in mass transit vehicles and movie theater previews.” The study concluded that physician referrals and flyer recruitment were the most effective methods.

This study was conducted in 2010, and “Internet” meant advertising on,,, and websites that had an IBS audience.

7 years later, the Internet has come a long way. With the rise of online advertising, it’s become easier to reach target populations. Below is how we helped our client CreakyJoints hit its 11,000-member goal for its ArthritisPower research registry one year before its PCORI deadline.

Digital Advertising for Patient Recruitment

The fastest, most direct method for digital patient recruitment is through advertising. Research teams and CROs can test the waters by piloting an advertising budget to quickly learn what platforms and tactics can refer the most enrollments for the lowest cost.

For CreakyJoints, we tested several different digital ad platforms to enroll participants into its ArthritisPower research registry. We advertised on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Display, and Google Search to uncover what platforms were most effective at driving people to complete an informed consent.

In addition to identifying what platforms were most effective, the 3-month pilot also revealed what recruitment messages worked best with certain segments of our population. One insight, for example, was that older folks – arthritis patients age 55 and up – were highly responsive to ads that appealed to their altruistic side, so ads that mentioned “transforming the future of arthritis” yielded the lowest cost per enrollment.

These insights informed how we would recruit for the next 12 months. Our next step is to develop new versions of ads that worked well for each audience segment — building on what worked and turning off those that didn’t.

The Importance of Tracking

Before spending any money, one major component that is easily overlooked is tracking. The importance of being able to tie a successful registration back to its referral source cannot be overstated. This allows you to compare the cost effectiveness of each of your paid tactics and adjust your strategy and budget allocation accordingly.

For ArthritisPower, two metrics informed how we would allocate future budget: the cost per lead and the cost per enrollment. For example, if we spent $5,000 on Google Display ads which referred only 100 enrollments, our cost per enrollment from Google Display would be $500. If we were seeing $20 per enrollment from Facebook ads, we would pause our Google Display efforts and move the budget to Facebook to get the most out of our budget.

Patient Recruitment With Facebook Ads

Facebook is a treasure trove of patient data and its vast targeting capabilities offer research studies to get in front of specific patients. For example:

  • We cannot technically target patients based on their diagnosis, but we can target based on interest and the Facebook pages they like, which has proven to work with ArthritisPower. For example, if you are targeting patients living with diabetes, you’d want to target people who like the Facebook pages of Diabetes Daily and American Diabetes Association.
  • Ethnic affinity, including whether or not they’re Hispanic
  • Language, even getting as granular as whether Spanish is their dominant or secondary language
  • Age
  • Device (desktop, tablet, mobile)

Facebook ads is also a self-service platform, giving us the power to test different messaging, landing pages, and images to understand what combination of these factors deliver the most registrations – all after IRB approval, of course.

Don’t Be Afraid to Explore New Tactics

The world of digital marketing is constantly evolving, which means there is always something new to try, whether a platform or tactic. Partner with organizations that have built their own communities of your target audience. Seek out advertising opportunities with websites that your target audience frequents. The ongoing task of testing, analyzing, and optimizing never end: It’s about gradual, continual improvement of your recruitment efforts. 

By testing and optimizing ads on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Display, and Google Search, CreakyJoints is well on its way to hitting its ArthritisPower 11,000 membership goal an entire year early.

Get in touch with Media Cause to see how we can help you recruit patients.


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