Using PR to support clinical trial recruitment

Written by Vicky Bramham on Tuesday 19th May 2020

This International Clinical Trials Day finds clinical research in the spotlight like never before, with any news coming from the many studies into potential vaccines and treatments for SARS-CoV-2 being eagerly awaited by people around the world desperate for a bit of good news.

The flip side of this is that many important studies find themselves in limbo, halted earlier this year as the pandemic made it impossible or unethical to continue. Recruiting patients into clinical trials can often be difficult, and researchers will now be faced with the additional burden of having to convince participants that it is safe to attend appointments when people are becoming used to associating health services with a risk of infection.

In light of this (and because it’s International Clinical Trials Day!) we thought it might be helpful to share some of the ways that OPEN Health use PR and comms activities to help support clinical trial recruitment.

Start with a clear and dedicated process

It sounds obvious, but make sure you know where you will drive interested people to and that there is a clear user pathway in place to manage requests for information and respond in a reasonable time. You don’t want all your hard work attracting interest to go to waste because people lose interest when they don’t get a response or cannot navigate the recruitment platform!

Ask for help to find the right people

As a general rule, as the condition under study gets rarer and your potential participants get fewer the more you might need to rely on identifying patients through specialist healthcare professionals and patient advocacy groups.

Professional organisation of specialist HCPs may be able to help by letting members know about the study, possibly sharing information via newsletters and at meetings and events.

Patient advocacy groups can really help with clinical trial recruitment. As well as direct communication to members they often have a presence on social media which will allow you to extend your reach even further.

Using social media

OPEN Health has always been known for traditional media relations, but social media campaigns have become a core activity for us in the PR team and are a key part of modern clinical trial recruitment. There are a range of ways to go about this effectively using both organic and paid-for targeted content to reach the right audience.

Organic content can be highly effective if you are able to identify appropriate hashtags, and this can be further amplified by support from other organisations. We have seen a large uplift in engagement when posts get shared by patient advocacy groups for example, either in public forums such as Twitter or closed forums and groups.

Do your participants fall into a specific age group have certain interests? Could you grab their attention by working with someone unexpected?

The better you understand your patient demographic the more success you will have targeting them on social media. It is important to be clear on what platforms can offer in the way of targeting before you begin, the rules and capabilities change frequently and we find it pays to stay close to the platforms themselves to keep up-to-date with latest guidelines and best practice. There can also be a bit of a disconnect between the policies and what happens in practice so you can expect to have to react and refine your content a little as you go! You should also be prepared to track your campaign analytics to see which posts are getting the most engagement so you can refine as you go.

Making the news

Is your trial truly ground-breaking? Well, maybe it isn’t, but titles specialising in the field may well be interested in a feature involving the investigators. Advertising or advertorial content placed in these titles and their websites may also be beneficial in raising awareness of your trial among people who could potentially help to identify appropriate participants. We are always talking to journalists looking for interesting stories, and a little bit of creativity can help to find an angle.

Reaching people in community settings

If you have a detailed understanding of your trial population you might be able to reach them in unexpected places. Be creative! If their condition is associated with mobility problems are there opportunities to work with appropriate services to publicise the trial? Are there any insights which can help suggest additional routes to the audience?

What do you think?

What have we missed? Recruiting the right patients for clinical trials will always be crucial to their success, and we would love to hear about any other ways that PR teams are helping support vital research.

Get in touch 

For further information or to discuss your PR needs, please contact Vicky Bramham