Considering digital patient recruitment for your trial? Be prepared: 5 things to consider

Invest time or involve an expert to target the right audience, use the right channels, and feed the right content. Make sure you outline the full strategy from creating awareness to referring qualified candidates.
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1. Take your time to build a patient profile

A targeted approach that appeals to your study population will give you the best results. Get to know your audience before you start building the theme, the messaging, the content, …

Building a target profile and defining subgroups is common business in marketing. The more your text and images are customized and ‘speak’ to your subgroups, the better results you will get. Collect information about age, gender, mobility, culture, languages, …

You could also start ‘listening’ online (social media, blogs, websites managed by patients, ….) and discover very useful information.

  • Is the target population active online? Where?
  • Do they organize in communities (e.g. Facebook groups) and do they support to one another online?
  • What are the main concerns about their condition?
  • What kind of wordings do they use?

In addition, you could launch anonymous online surveys to collect real world data. Get answers to specific questions you have. Online patients surveys offer a fast, efficient and cost-effective way to learn about the patient population. The valuable information you collect can used for protocol design, development of recruitment and retention strategies and tools, ...


2. Select online channels

Your patient profile will help you to select the online channels that fit the subgroups. If for example you need to target men in their late twenties with knee injuries; you could consider advertising banners on sports websites. Or if you need to target women in menopause you could use sponsored advertising on Facebook targeting women between 50 and 60 years old.

Keep in mind that some channels provide the possibilities to target the audience based on geographical location, age, gender and/or language. Geographical location is very powerful to target regions in the vicinity of study sites. The closer the study candidates live, the lower the study burden resulting in higher enrollment rates and better retention rates.

Some patient populations are actively searching for solutions and treatment options online. A technique called ‘keyword research’ can provide insights. Google AdWords allows to target this group of empowered patients.

However, most patients are not actively searching. For this group you need to reach out based on the target profile, put content in front of them, and grasp their attention with customized content.


3. Speak the ‘language’ of the patient

Presenting content in the language of the patient is obvious, but do you also use the wordings they use. For example, someone with neuropathic pain is more likely to refer to sensations such as stabbings or electric shocks instead of referring to the term dysesthesia. The space is limited in advertisements. You should use basic terms as there is no space to go more in detail and explain.

Once someone ends up on the study website, you do not want to overwhelm this visitor. Provide information in layman’s terms, keep it concise, and use visual aids as often as possible. Very short animation video’s or graphics are more likely to catch the attention.


4. Prepare and submit a variety of ad creatives for review

As indicated above, the more you customize and ‘speak’ to your subgroups, the better results you will get. Therefore, you need more than one or two ads. If you submit a variety of ad creatives for review by Institutional Review Boards (IRB) or Ethics Committees (EC) you can monitor your campaigns closely and optimize using the best performing ads. Optimization is possible in terms of number of clicks, but also in number of generated and qualified candidates.

The variety in your ads can be addressed at several levels: text, image, color, …

Some tips: Do not use an image of a male person if you are targeting women. Match the age of the people in the image with the age of the target group. Think about colors in your ads as colors are known to influence people. Blue, for example, is the preferred color of men and it is also associated with trust and reliability. Please keep in mind the cultural differences in the ‘psychology’ of colors.


5. Awareness is only the first step, think about the follow up strategy

Creating awareness about your clinical trial is only the beginning… There are many more things to prepare before you can start.

  • How can interested candidates register?
  • How do you want to organize the qualification the candidates before referring them to the study sites?
  • Do you want to include phone pre-screening?
  • How will you secure the privacy of the study candidates?
  • What messages/emails will be sent to candidates?
  • Is the process lean enough to handle incoming candidates in a timely way?

The full strategy and each individual step should be presented for review to Institutional Review   Boards (IRB) or Ethics Committees (EC)


In summary, invest time or involve an expert to target the right audience, use the right channels, and feed the right content. Make sure you outline the full strategy from creating awareness to referring qualified candidates.
We are a one-stop-shop for (digital) patient recruitment in close collaboration with you as a Sponsor and study site staff. Do you need support or interested to learn more? We are happy to discuss your needs. Contact us